How to ruin a Budget: Left turns on 'patronising' Tories in beer and bingo backlash

The poster that wrecked otherwise perfect Budget coverage
The poster that wrecked otherwise perfect Budget coverage
Alex Stevenson By

The Conservatives have managed to ruin what looked like perfect coverage of George Osborne's fifth Budget. Well done, Grant Shapps.

Labour needed little encouragement to dismiss the 'bingo' online poster tweeted by the Tory chairman as patronising last night.

And the backlash is continuing this morning, with Labour and the Lib Dems uniting to paint the Tories as blundering toffs with class views of what 'hardworking people' want that are only, oh, about 80 years out of date.

Labour had struggled to come up with any meaningful line against the actual policies which Osborne unveiled yesterday. So when Shapps handed the left an opportunity to bash the Tories despite the fact there wasn't anything substantial in the Budget they disagreed on, opposition spinners were fervent with gratitude.

"We promise we won't make a habit of sharing Tory party ads, but this has to be seen to believed," Labour wrote on its Facebook page as it shared the Shapps ad.

The left didn't need much more encouragement.

Even Liberal Democrat Danny Alexander, Osborne's right-hand-man in the Treasury, has rejected the poster.

"I think it is rather patronising and it demeans some rather sensible things," he said on Newsnight.

Alexander admitted that at first he thought the poster was a spoof. It might be a Lib Dem Budget too, he added, but this poster was nothing to do with his party.

This is actually good news for the Lib Dems. It helps their strategic goal of spending 2014 pretending they're nothing to do with the Tories. Yesterday Osborne laboured the point that he was a "Conservative chancellor" delivering the Budget, pushing Nick Clegg and co out of the picture.

They won't mind that so much now, for the spoofs have started coming.

And it's that last one which is really embarrassing for the Tories.

That's what this is all about - making out that the Tories are so out-of-touch (a key Labour message which, if you look carefully, finds its way into every other press release issued by the opposition) they have to talk to working people as if they're all still wearing flat caps and heading off down the mines.

Osborne sounded distinctly rattled when he was asked about it on the Today programme this morning.

"I think it's very good that we're letting people know we're helping the bingo industry," he grumbled.

"I find it a bit odd. This is a campaign which has been got up by the Labour party which decimated the bingo industry and put taxes up and up [on beer]... I would suggest they actually try and engage with the Budget, because they haven't got anything sensible to say about it yet."

Politics doesn't have to be sensible. None of the tweets below could be classified as sensible. But they don't lose any of their effectiveness for it.

Before we all get carried away, it's worth asking whether the bingo poster really is that patronising. The 'they' in hardworking people was ill-judged, true. But talking about beer is not particularly offensive. What really makes this a headslap moment for the Tories is the over-emphasis on bingo, and the capital letters, and the cringeworthy exclamation mark.

Shapps' original tweet remains on his Twitter feed, as deleting it would be a clear admission of failure. But in Westminster the reports are the ad has been 'pulled'. A bit late for that.

It's an unusual morning-after, this time round. The right-wing press are crowing with delight at Osborne's most successful Budget yet. Yes, this poster is unfortunate. But, as some are pointing out, the headlines Osborne's getting the day after have generally been the stuff of chancellors' dreams.

UPDATE: According to We Are Social, the global social media agency, the hashtag #ToryBingo has now featured an eye-watering 40,000 times Shapps' original tweet was the most retweeted Budget tweet.

Ed Kitchingham, its research and insight director, has lots of clever things to say. But they're best summed up by this: “The Conservative Party must be kicking themselves."

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