By Tim Montgomerie
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After last year's Autumn Statement The Sun decided that George Osborne was the 'Tin Man'. The newspaper blasted the Chancellor's lack of boldness on growth. The occupant of Number 11 isn't getting any more popular in Britain's best-selling newspaper. Over the last 48 hours he's faced terrible headlines in all newspapers but The Sun has provided the most worrying attacks. On inside page after inside page the headlines have been grim, grim, grim…
This isn't just a Leveson thing. The Sun was becoming a much more difficult beast for the Tories well before hackgate took off – especially on justice policy and Afghanistan. One Sun insider told me that the paper now relentlessly attempts to see the world through the eyes of only one person – its readers and the average Sun reader earns £18,000.
That's why The Sun doesn't hold back in its main leader column today:
"The truly wealthy KEEP thousands extra due to Osborne's increasingly dubious scrapping of the 50p rate. So . . . for sergeants, LESS take-home pay. For rich Cabinet ministers, despite the denials, MORE. Nice one, George."
The Sun thinks it's on its readers' side in being so grumpy. Last year more people thought the 2011 Budget was fair than unfair (by 44% to 31%). This year most people with an opinion think it's unfair (by 48% to 32%).
Not only did The Sun not achieve victory in its relentless campaign for lower fuel duty it's also mad at what it sees as a retreat on child benefit. The Sun thought the policy announced at the 2011 Tory Conference was an essential signal that wealthier voters would share the burden of austerity. Although it accepted some sort of tapering was probably necessary to improve the policy there is anger at Sun Towers at the fact that the policy has been significantly softened.
I'm told The Sun isn't even close to warming to Labour (despite its recent praise of Yvette Cooper) but there is anger at the "staggering political ineptitude" of George Osborne according to one journalist I spoke to at the paper. "He's supposed to be the election wunderkid," the source said… "some wunderkid".
It is not just The Sun, of course. The Mail has complained that taxes such as the granny levy wouldn't be necessary if spending was being cut more quickly. The Telegraph says the granny tax targets the prudent elderly most of all. While acknowledging that the elderly need to be aware of justice across the generations the FT concludes (£) it would have made more sense to limit much wealthier pensioners' access to benefits like the Winter Fuel Allowance.
All this leads Fraser Nelson to worry that the next election might be a lot tougher than some think:
"Opinions vary as to how far a second Cameron term is inevitable. I don’t regard it as such, and if British politics has taught us anything in the last few years it’s to not take anything for granted. Yes, Labour’s leader may be a figure of ridicule. But the party’s brand is strong and its poll rating still high. That’s why Osborne should make faster progress on the recovery, funded by deeper savings. He’s getting better and bolder with each budget, but his development curve is still too slow for the electoral cycle. The longer he takes, the greater risk he runs of what would be (for him) the worst political epitaph of all: that he was a great warm-up act for the next Labour government."
Team Osborne insist that the Budget shouldn't be judged by instant headlines. They believe that lower corporation tax and the end of 50p will convince businesses to invest in Britain. Probably true but the sense that the Conservative Party is a party for all has taken a hammering in the last 24 hours.