The Week in Review: Was this the perfect Budget?

George Osborne had a good week. Unlike the Tory party
George Osborne had a good week. Unlike the Tory party
Alex Stevenson By

It's been an omnitriumph for George Osborne - if not for the Conservative party - this week.

Practice makes perfect. The chancellor has had four previous gos at putting together a flawless Budget package. He's had a tough task, what with slashing spending hither and thither, and hasn't always covered himself in glory in the process.

But two years have passed since the shuddering horrors of 2012, when virtually everything that could have gone wrong with his Budget statement duly did so. This year, in an utterly unprecedented development, we haven't heard the word 'unravelling' even once. Osborne has done extraordinarily well.

The opposition couldn't find a thing to kick up a stink about. Were they going to make a fuss about the pensions reforms? Not so much. Maybe they might have had a go at the plans to make it easier to save money? Hardly. The new pound coin isn't exactly something to get worked up about, either. Ed Balls admitted to journalists it was all a bit "underwhelming", and ended up telling a story about Eric Pickles falling asleep instead.

Osborne has even mastered the art of doing something with nothing. As we realised soon after the Budget statement was delivered, the spending bits of his tax-neutral package were being financed by the chancellor stealing from (a) baddies or (b) the future. Neither are going to cause much trouble.

And so the result is a Budget week in which the Tories have advanced their political agenda just a little bit more, while losing next to no ground. It was all going so well. Until Grant Shapps' truly calamitous tweet ruined everything.

His campaign poster, which effectively suggested the Conservatives thought "hard-working people" liked nothing more than a pint of beer while enjoying a relaxing game of bingo, came across as agonisingly patronising. The cringeworthy-ometer was swinging alarmingly close to George-Galloway-pretending-to-be-a-cat levels. And the left, not having anything better to do, went to town on it.

Social media disasters are nothing new in British politics, but this gets a special mention because it was so disruptive. One moment the chancellor was enjoying headlines that his predecessors in No 11 could only dream of; the next his party was being ridiculed mercilessly. If the rumours are true and Shapps' job as Tory chairman does come under pressure in the coming months, we shouldn't expect he will be getting staunch support from Osborne.

The Budget was also thoroughly successful in ending a very embarrassing news story for the Tories: a refuelling of the idea that the Conservatives are out-of-touch, posh old Etonians. Michael Gove's criticism that the number of Etonians in the Cabinet is "embarrassing" and "ridiculous" reportedly left Cameron fuming. So goodness knows how he felt when Foreign Office minister Sayeeda Warsi - Shapps' predecessor as chairman, no less - went on television brandishing a mocked-up newspaper headline about 'Eton mess'. Minutes before the Budget I spoke to a Tory backbencher telling me about the problem her party had with the "old boys network" image problem. But then came Osborne's statement, and the story was promptly forgotten about.

This week was always going to be about the Budget, but there were other stories out there. Tony Benn's sad death dominated coverage at the weekend, and rightly so, but there was a more unsavoury element to the story by the end of the week. A thoroughly nice idea to honour his body before its funeral found itself under criticism from a Tory MP. Not nice, not nice.

We also saw a quiet declaration of Cold War in the Commons chamber by William Hague. The foreign secretary has spent the last few weeks warning darkly, if somewhat vaguely, of "consequences" for Russia's de facto annexation of Crimea. Tuesday saw him flesh out exactly what that threat meant. The west's relations with Russia are in flux. Not that many MPs seemed to notice.


Load in comments
Politics @ Lunch

Friday lunchtime. Your Inbox. It's a date.