Fraser Nelson Fraser Nelson

Matthew Parris is right – and George Osborne should calm down.

George Osborne has been behaving rather oddly of late. Normally, he’s known as the ‘submarine’ for surfacing only twice a year. Now, it’s twice a week. On Tuesday he delivered a speech to supermarket staff, talking tough on welfare and sometimes lapsing into a Dick Van Dyke mockney accent. On Thursday he used the Philpott case to raise questions about the welfare system. Yesterday, David Cameron backed him. It looks like a concerted effort to speak on the wavelength of target voters – but will it work?  In this week’s Spectator, Matthew Parris suggests it may not. He has spoken at length to many of the 40 MPs who hold the most marginal seats. He notices that the calls for radicalism tend to come from those with massive majorities, where those on the frontline are more cautious. Here’s what he has to say:

‘An image of the party as concerned about the poor was important to them, and there was some irritation with MPs in more prosperous seats who can sound careless about welfare. I encountered repeated personal support for Iain Duncan Smith: a sizeable handful told me they were happy to trust the details to him…

‘The message is this: ‘We don’t want to look nasty and we don’t want to look mad.’ It would be wrong to say my interviewees were not concerned about Ukip; some were very worried indeed. But they had a wary eye on the floating voters who might float the Liberal Democrats’ or Labour’s way, or stay at home, if the Conservatives acquired a foaming-at-the-mouth appearance. Probably for this reason, a handful of the MPs made the same point to me: that a specific policy on (say) immigration or benefits or overseas aid that might get strong assent from many voters could still hurt the party if it fed into a vaguer and more general impression of unkindness.

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