Peter Hoskin

Osborne winning the Budget PR battle – but VAT remains a thorny issue

Osborne winning the Budget PR battle – but VAT remains a thorny issue
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Well, that's gone as well as can be expected for the coalition.  Most of today's newspaper coverage highlights the severity of George Osborne's Budget – but, crucially, it adds that the Chancellor had few other options.  The Telegraph calls it a "brave Budget".  The Times says that it delivers "the best of fiscal conservatism combined with no small measure of social justice".  And even the FT – no friend of the Tories in recent years – suggests that Osborne might be "remembered for doing Britain a great service."

The sourest notes chime around the government's welfare cuts and the hike in VAT.  Already, it's clear that the latter will be particularly difficult for the Tories and embarrassing for the Lib Dems.  In an otherwise solid performance on the Today programme, for instance, Osborne sounded wobbly when it came to VAT.  His central point was that he couldn't have foreseen that the tax would be bumped up until he got his hands on the books.  Which would be a fairly persuasive viewpoint, were it not for the fact that the Tories had been considering a VAT hike for some time – and brushed over it during the election campaign.

In the end, the public will probably just have to stomach the VAT rise.  But this doesn't make the current debate, in the newspapers and on the airwaves, any less crucial for the coalition.  For the sake of it's own longevity, the government will have to do everything it can to convince its twin sets of backbenchers that the pain really is "unavoidable".