At every Labour fumble the professionals on the Tory front bench look wiser and wiser

George Osborne laughs at John McDonnell, Autumn Statement 2015, via BBC

For all the differences between the front benches in the Commons at the moment there is one thing that unites them: both sides are headed by career politicians.

Not the same sort of career politicians, mind. George Osborne, the Tory chancellor, is a man who prides himself on belonging to what he terms the parliamentary “guild”. As described by his biographer Janan Ganesh, this is defined by the view that:

“Politics is a trade with its own skills and codes that can only be learned on the job. It is not an amateur vocation for talented people from other fields.”

Two swords’ length away from Osborne, his shadow John McDonnell is of a different view.

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Diane Abbott suggests Chairman Mao ‘on balance did more good than harm’

Labour chancellor John McDonnell may have provoked laughter in the Commons this week for quoting from Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book, but at least he did not defend the views of the Chinese tyrant.

The same cannot be said, however, for international development shadow secretary Diane Abbott, who told the Beeb’s This Week that were some upsides to Chairman Mao’s murderous rule when asked why people wore t-shirts with his image on.

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George Osborne attacks fiscal charter as ‘vacuous and irrelevant legislation’

George Osborne, South Wraxall, August 2015 by Gareth Milner

This week saw chaos in Labour as its shadow chancellor John McDonnell withdrew his support for the Tory government’s fiscal charter, which commits governments to an absolute budget surplus whilst the economy is growing.

On Wednesday night the Commons voted through this measure by 320 to 258, with McDonnell forced to defend his “embarrassing” behaviour and 21 Labour MPs rebelling in the process.

But apparently nobody in opposition thought to consult the history books before the charter debate took place, which would have allowed them to reveal a similar change of heart on the part of George Osborne, the chancellor pushing through the charter.

Back in early 2010 Osbo was the one attacking the then Labour government’s Fiscal Responsibility Act, which called for government to borrow less as a percentage of gross domestic product for each succeeding year, among other things.

A clip from Guido Fawkes shows this in action:

Attacking the then chancellor Alistair Darling, Osborne said:

“Why is he the first chancellor in our history that feels he needs an act of parliament on top of a budget statement? There are only two explanations. Either he doesn’t trust himself to secure sound public finances, or he knows the public doesn’t trust him to secure them.”

As Guido points out, Labour would have done well to quote Osborne’s words right back at him.

But as both sides know, this is not about economics but the perception of economic competence that has proved so harmful for Labour and good for the Tories over decades of general elections.

It is also the second time the Tory government has used a bill as a political weapon against a weakened Labour in the wake of the election, a welfare bill having been used to split the party earlier in July.

Image Credit – George Osborne, South Wraxall, August 2015 by Gareth Milner

Labour fiscal charter chaos spills over into media skirmishes

Treasury, Westminster, April 2012 by Kurt Bauschardt

Poor discipline within the Labour ranks spilled over into the media on Tuesday as a dispute over the party’s approach to the government’s fiscal charter saw several MPs breaking ranks to criticise the leadership.

Emily Thornberry, shadow employment secretary, had told MPs not to text journalists and to keep their voices down at a Parliamentary Labour Party meeting on Monday evening in Parliament, journalists being stood outside the committee room where it took place.

Yet John Mann, MP for Bassetlaw and a member of the Treasury Committee, gave an interview to the BBC and wrote a piece for Politics Home in which he argued that shadow chancellor John McDonnell had been ensnared in a trap by chancellor George Osborne.

The aim of this trap was to weaken Labour’s economic credibility by making its leadership chose between looking profligate if they did not agree to balance the books, or accept spending cuts detested by the party’s core supporters.

Whilst McDonnell had said he would back Osborne’s fiscal charter to balance the books, on Monday he reversed this decision, leading many MPs to criticise the leadership within earshot of journalists.

Writing on Politics Home, Mann said:

“The reality is that to have voted with Osborne would have led to political meltdown in Scotland and McDonnell’s political judgement faces some big questions. New [Jeremy] Corbyn supporters would have been bemused and demoralised. It would have been a political disaster with huge consequences.”

Mann complained that this reversal had occurred without consulting MPs, even though he jokingly praised McDonnell for getting it “right in the end.” But he said the shadow chancellor “looks a bit of a fool” because of his behaviour.

Corbyn, leader of Labour, has been forced to operate a more consensual approach to cabinet management than his predecessors owing to weak support from Labour MPs for his leadership.

Earlier today Diane Abbott gave an interview to BBC Radio 4 in which she attempted to defend her leader to a bemused John Humphrys, adding that “some people are only slowly coming to terms” with the result of the party’s leadership election, in which Blairites were sidelined in favour of hard leftists.

Image Credit – Treasury, Westminster, April 2012 by Kurt Bauschardt

Diane Abbott defends John McDonnell’s fiscal reversal against sceptical John Humphrys

Diane Abbott, May 2012 by Policy Exchange

Hackney MP Diane Abbott went on Radio 4 on Tuesday morning in a bid to rectify the damage caused by news that a civil war had broken out among Labour MPs after the leadership reversed its position on the government’s fiscal charter.

A bemused John Humphrys provoked laughter from Abbott as she attempted to dispel the view that Labour’s chancellor John McDonnell believes “the deficit can go hang”, after it emerged he does not support the government’s plans to balance the budget after investment spending is taken into account.

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