The general election was only a few months ago, but according to George Osborne, voters and his own MPs have forgotten what happened during that campaign. Indeed, it seems we have all already forgotten what was said, because apparently the campaign included details of cuts to working tax credits.
Today the Chancellor defended these cuts when he appeared before the Treasury Select Committee. John Mann decided that the most effective way of attacking the cuts was by appealing to George Osborne’s own personal ambition. ‘We’re trying to help you Chancellor avoid Mrs Thatcher’s mistakes with the poll tax,’ he said, adding: ‘That will be a political disaster for you as well as for the country, so the information that we’re seeking is as much in your interests as in ours so that we can get this right.’ He asked for information on who would be impacted by the policy. The Chancellor replied:
‘As I say, we’ve provided a huge amount of information about these changes, more so than any other government, more so than certainly any Labour Chancellor. People know what we’ve proposed and of course in the general election we made it very clear we needed to make £12 billion of savings from welfare, so it was also, you know, signalled in the general election campaign and, I seem to remember, heavily debated in the general election campaign.’
This is a helpful reminder for everyone else who recalls an election campaign in which the Tories did talk about £12 billion of welfare cuts but steadfastly refused to explain what those cuts would involve. Clearly we had forgotten the interviews in which the Chancellor told voters what he was planning, or the op-eds which spelled out the details.
What was also interesting about this hearing was that Osborne was happy to say he was ‘comfortable’ with the changes, and he didn’t drop hints about any need for tweaks. Either he is planning to announce mitigation of some sort in the Autumn Statement so that he appears in control of the situation, rather than bounced into it by Labour, or he thinks it is worth pursuing the changes in full. Our leading article this week echoes John Mann’s warning of a political disaster if he chooses the latter route, and points out that it’s not just about politics and personal ambition but about the harm this policy will cause the very hardworking people he professes to back. They won’t be ‘comfortable’ with those changes.