George Osborne received a fulsome banging of desks last night at the 1922 Committee, joking that he should come back again once he’s won a vote if he gets that sort of reception when he’s lost. Tory MPs were doing the desk banging for the benefit of those hacks skulking outside, but they are now holding their breath to see what the Chancellor actually comes up with to mitigate the tax credit cuts in the Autumn Statement. Inside the meeting, the Chancellor was upbeat, but made clear that there will be movement on the issue.
The waiting game means that David Cameron had to refuse to answer the same question six times at PMQs, and anyone else asked about the issue in broadcast interviews will have to deploy the same duck and weave technique.
Many Tory MPs who were worried about the cuts are also sympathetic to the Chancellor’s predicament in having to find £12bn of cuts to the welfare budget from somewhere, and they point out that none of his critics have really come up with a viable alternative. And they feel as though they have made their point, and that the Lords have driven that point home. This means they are reasonably confident of adequate mitigation in a few weeks’ time. They have been suggesting various ways of funding the mitigation, such as putting a penny on fuel duty, but chief whip Mark Harper has been making clear in private discussions that this isn’t going to happen as it would contradict the manifesto.
Andrew Percy, one of those who first voiced concerns about the cuts, tells Coffee House:
‘I am confident that the measures of mitigation will be announced and I trust the government now having understood the will of the lords and also of a lot of Conservative backbenchers to get it right. This is what my constituents wanted and this is what scores of Tory MPs want too.’
Osborne knows that he cannot announce protection for tax credit recipients that turns out to be a sleight of hand. Even announcing them on Autumn Statement day when he, not his opponents, is the centre of attention won’t protect him: his backbenchers are too worried and his foes too energised to let him off with anything less.