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OSBORNE penknife

This morning’s papers suggest that the Chancellor is set to back down on his bid to cut ‘Short Money’, the state funding provided to opposition parties.

There is a good case to be made against state funding for political parties, and there will be plenty of people who sympathised with the Chancellor’s aspiration.

However it seems that Downing Street may have put a stop to it, being less keen on the reform and – importantly – unwilling to expend much political capital on it.

And it would have been an expense in that regard. Whilst the current, higher rate of Short Money only dates back to Tony Blair, it was originally introduced by Harold Wilson’s second administration in the mid-1970s.

In short (no pun intended), people have got used to it. There was little support for John Penrose, the minister charged with overseeing the cut, in the Chamber.

It does mark the latest incident of a pattern, however, of George Osborne coming up with a clever wheeze and then taking heavy fire for it (and, in many instances, retreating).

There was his volte-face on tax credits, wherein he abandoned wholesale a major plank of his deficit-shrinking plan after intense criticism. Or the heat he’s getting over his tax bargain with Google. Or his long march away from the strict fiscal discipline of Plan A.

Whilst individually any of these might suggest merely a commendable willingness to choose his ground, listen to criticism and adapt his strategy, together they suggest either an absence of strategy or a lack of the will to see a strategy through.

This will embolden his opponents, who see that putting the Chancellor under pressure reaps rewards. It also casts a shadow over his leadership ambitions.

At heart, the Chancellor is a tactician, and a often good one. It is widely known that he loves the political game, and is always looking for ways to outmanoeuvre his opponents. There are times, such as the inheritance tax proposal which spooked Gordon Brown, that this pays dividends.

But it is also well known that Osborne aspires to lead the party and be Prime Minister, which necessitates that he be measured by a different yardstick.

A leader needs to have a big-picture, long-term vision and the will to stick with it. If the Chancellor wants to fill that role, he’s going to have to start seeing things through.

46 comments for: Osborne’s latest retreat on Short Money fits a pattern

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