Chancellor George Osborne faces the toughest challenge of his six years in government on Tuesday afternoon, when he defends his much-maligned budget before MPs in a bid to quell a Tory civil war.
Osborne is defending drastic cuts to welfare payments introduced alongside tax breaks for the rich, in an attempt to convince the country he is dedicated to “compassionate Conservatism.”
He has however been forced into a U-turn over deeply unpopular cuts to disability benefits. The policy was so unpopular Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith resigned in protest, and Osborne has not been since in parliament since.
He even failed to answer an urgent question from Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, sending junior minister David Gauke in his place, prompting the Twitter hashtag #WheresGeorge.
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron asked the Chancellor to “act in the national interest and resign” during Tuesday’s debate after stating that people may be more likely to vote to leave the EU if he remains in power.
Tim Farron says if George Osborne doesn’t resign as chancellor people may be more likely to vote to leave the EU.
— Ned Simons (@nedsimons) March 22, 2016
Speaking in the Commons, the Chancellor reminded Tory MPs they were elected less than one year ago on a platform of “economic security, controlling public spending and lower taxes for working people and business.”
Osborne has officially confirmed his embarrassing climb-down over cuts to Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) for disabled people, which were originally going to be reduced by £30 a month.
At the same time he is seeking to defend his budget as having promoted economic security.
George Osborne is to “compassionate Conservatism” what Don Juan was to chastity. Pretty unconvincing act today
— Kevin Maguire (@Kevin_Maguire) March 22, 2016
“We know that those who suffer most when Britain loses control of its public finances and the economy crashes aren’t the best off but the poorest and the most vulnerable,” he will say.
“But this Budget will lift 1.3 million of the lowest paid out of income tax, it will deliver improvements to our schools, help the least well-off to save, and support business and enterprise to create jobs and boost social mobility.”
Osborne’s hopes of leading the Conservative Party into the next election have been dealt a severe blow by Duncan Smith’s resignation and the ensuing scandal. A YouGov poll published on Tuesday found an overwhelming majority of British voters think he will never become prime minister.
Some 67 percent of British voters and 69 percent of Conservatives said it is unlikely Osborne will ever lead the party.
Prime Minister David Cameron reportedly blamed Osborne for the row over disability welfare cuts which erupted last week with Duncan Smith’s sudden resignation.
He stood down on Friday after accusing the government of protecting wealthy Tory-voting pensioners while cutting benefits for the poor and disabled.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn called on Osborne to resign.
“His Budget simply doesn’t add up and it unraveled within hours of him presenting it. This isn’t the first time a George Osborne Budget has unraveled,” he told the BBC.
“It seems to me we need to look at the very heart of this government, at its incompetence, at the way it puts forward proposals that simply don’t add up and expects the most needy in our society to take the hit for them.”