By Tim Montgomerie
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Some good news for George Osborne today after yet another bruising week. S&P have reaffirmed the UK's triple A credit rating. The Chancellor rushed out a statement welcoming the news:
"As Britain welcomes the world to our country for the Olympic games, this is a reminder that despite the economic problems we face, the world has confidence that we are dealing with them. The deficit has fallen by a quarter; inflation has fallen by half; employment is rising, with British businesses creating over 800,000 new jobs; and the economy is rebalancing, with Britain now exporting more to the rest of the world than Europe. And as S&P themselves say, what would damage Britain's creditworthiness would be relaxing our resolve to deal with our debts. We won't do that."
My guess is that he'll also welcome two paragraphs in Matthew Parris' column for today's Times (£). Matthew Parris spotlights the failure of Tory MPs to back George Osborne for the austerity programme that they all clamoured for. I know that Number 11 is increasingly frustrated by the wobbliness of the parliamentary party and I wouldn't be surprised if Mr Parris' words have been inspired by Team Osborne. Mr Parris writes…
"Tory MPs are as a collective unbelievably lily-livered and flaky: not a bunch to go tiger shooting with. They’ll thump their tables and urge you forward, then, when danger threatens, funk it and urge your critics on with more table thumping. Thump/funk/thump/funk … there’s a big yellow streak right down the back of the parliamentary Conservative Party, and there always has been — despite the presence within it of many individually excellent men and women — and a sort of canine quality, each barking and nipping and running where the other dogs run, but each ready, should other dogs lose heart, to shrink back into the whimpering pack. The backstabbing behaviour of some of them now towards George Osborne — a Chancellor who has embraced all the austerity they urged upon him (except with more restraint) and whom they now moan at for not “creating growth” or for utter trivialities such as upsetting pasty-sellers or static-caravan owners — is simply disgraceful."
In some specifics this is unfair. Most of the aggro that the Chancellor has received from Tory MPs has been for tax rises, not spending cuts. Other Tory MPs are unhappy because they aren't seeing the kind of Thatcherite action on airports, deregulation and tax that they would like. They aren't moaning about austerity. I certainly share these second set of frustrations but they should more properly be directed at the realities of coalition government rather than Mr Osborne. Where Mr Parris is right is in the general mood of Tory MPs. The Chancellor deserves more front-of-camera and behind-the-scenes support from his backbenchers.