By Paul Goodman
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George Osborne's decision to halt August's planned fuel duty rise and freeze it for the rest of this year is an adroit retreat which will be greeted with relief by motorists – and, furthermore, has been played by the book, since he's just announced it in the Commons.
George Osborne's decision to halt August's planned fuel duty rise and freeze it for the rest of this year is a panic climbdown which will be greeted with contempt by everyone – and, furthermore, is extremely badly timed, since Ed Balls called for it today.
You must decide for yourself which version you prefer, if either. The Chancellor will be well aware that the change of plan provides more ammunition to those who accuse him of incoherence – given his post-budget shifts on pasties, charities, caravans and church renovations.
As ever with Mr Osborne, the political element will be uppermost. This morning's Sun article by the Shadow Chancellor furthered the prospect of a pincer movement on his fuel plans by Mr Balls and Conservative MPs. A Commons vote was due.
One of the Chancellor's golden rules is never to allow oneself to be outsmarted by Mr Balls, and I suspect that this consideration played a large part in his decision. Perhaps the Shadow Chancellor got wind of it – hence his Sun piece today. One never knows.
Or perhaps Mr Osborne is more worried about the Sun. It has been extremely hostile to him of late. But the will also know that giving way on fuel day, even with the best of grace, is no guarantee that it will become more amenable.
A big day, too, for Robert Halfon, who has been leading the campaign against the proposed rise.