The Treasury received some bad news today, so it sent out Chloe Smith to respond instead of her boss George Osborne. The economic secretary made the same point as Fraser about Labour's alternative strategy when she responded to the latest borrowing figures this afternoon. She said:
'Their strategy would be to borrow more and to spend more and we cannot take that kind of decision in these circumstances.'
But she then added:
'What these figures really show is the importance of sticking to the plan that has won Britain international credibility.'
The 'international credibility' line is quite interesting as presumably Smith is referring to Britain's credit rating, which Danny Alexander said recently was 'not the be-all and end-all'. Her line does not have support from members of her own party, either. John Redwood wrote a blog today which criticised 'uncompetitive rates' of tax:
If the government keeps increasing spending at this rate, there will be too much borrowing. Tax revenues from self assessment income tax and capital gains tax are falling because the government has set uncompetitive rates. The Chancellor wisely changed his tax regime for oil and gas in the latest budget, following the fall off in activity last year from higher taxes. He needs to review all taxes with a view of maximising revenues by setting competitive rates.
Meanwhile Douglas Carswell continued to accuse the Treasury of continuing to make policy in the mould of Gordon Brown. He tweeted:
So how's that deficit-under-control thingy working out? Guess the maths is winning against politicians' rhetoric. #continuitybrown
This dissatisfaction is not confined to Westminster. ITV published the results of a ComRes poll this evening which found only 16 per cent of the British public trust George Osborne to see the country through the the current economic situation: the worst trust rating for the Chancellor since the poll started asking the question in October 2010. Meanwhile 53 per cent of voters do not trust David Cameron on the same matter, with 21 per cent and 17 per cent saying they have faith in the respective abilities of Ed Miliband and Ed Balls. This poll and today's borrowing figures point to what many Tory MPs secretly fear: that they will not be able to fight the next election on the basis of their party's economic prowess.