UK Politics

Did George Osborne do enough to heal Tory wounds?

George Osborne at the despatch box Image copyright HoC

With open wounds in his party, a gap in his finances and questions over his competence the chancellor had much to try to heal.

He was returning to the chamber less than a week after announcing his Budget, with one of its measures already dead and others surviving only after life support.

Had George Osborne himself been left fatally weakened by Iain Duncan Smith's resignation?

Certainly his authority was in question.

Mr Osborne's critics wanted to know how he was going to fill a £4.4bn "black hole" left by the U-turn over disability payments.

Labour had pointed to another gap - left by a man they said was too "scared" to answer their urgent Commons question over all of this on Monday.

But now here he was at the dispatch box - a chancellor opening the final day of a Budget debate, something that he pointed out had not happened in 20 years.

'Livelier debate'

As he got to his feet the body language from MPs behind him seemed positive; there was the sound of rousing support as he began to speak.

The mood in the chamber immediately calmed as the chancellor began by paying tribute to the victims of the tragic events in Belgium.

It was a reminder, said Mr Osborne, of "what a precious thing our democracy is".

Today's Budget debate was part of that democratic process, he said, before a nod of euphemism to the significant problems he had been having.

"I think it's fair to say that we've had a livelier debate about this Budget than many."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Duncan Smith quit as work and pensions secretary with an attack on planned disability benefits cuts

So what of his solutions? It was clear that the chancellor was opting for spiritual healing rather than keyhole surgery.

His departed colleague Mr Duncan Smith was praised for having helped to create a fairer society.

The chancellor even dared to reclaim the mantra the former work and pensions secretary questioned in his resignation letter - "we are all in this together" he promised.

It would set the tone for the chancellor's statement, which was more often about the big picture on the economy rather than the fiscal detail.

"Without sound public finances there is no social justice," he said.

The cost of the disability payments U-turn could be "absorbed", he declared.

Image copyright HoC
Image caption Mr McDonnell accused Mr Osborne of being a "political chancer"

But it was far from an answer for Labour MPs, who punctuated the chancellor's statement with critical interruptions.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said Mr Osborne's behaviour called into question his fitness for the office he holds.

"What we've seen is not the actions of a chancellor... but the grubby incompetent manipulations of a political chancer," he said.

Mr Osborne got what he predicted - a lively debate on the budget; healing the problems it leaves him may take some time longer.

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