James Forsyth

The consequences of the child benefit row

The consequences of the child benefit row
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"You only get cut through when there’s a row," one Tory observed to me on Friday as we discussed the anger that had followed George Osborne’s announcement on child benefit. So in one way, the Tories are not unhappy with the fact that this story is still rumbling on.

It is imprinting on the public mind that the Tories have hit the well-off. This is in advance of a spending review that is bound to hit hardest those people and regions that are most dependent on the state. Following the media coverage of the child benefit row, it will be much harder for Labour to make the charge that the cuts are socially divisive stick. It really does appear that "we are all in this together."

 

But there are two things that do worry the Tories about the row. First, Cameron’s media rounds on Tuesday where he appeared to suggest that those who lost out from it might be compensated somehow. As Andrew Rawnsley puts it in The Observer today, "the prime minister had a bit of a wobble – and visibly so." The Budget worked from a political and presentational view because there was no deviation or hesitation but only repetition from those sent out to defend it. The same must be true of the spending review. This is no time to go wobbly.

 

The other concern is that it has painfully reminded the Tory members of the Cabinet that power is wielded by a very small group of people. One Tory minister told me that Iain Duncan-Smith was livid on Monday that he had not been given proper notice of the announcement; it is a bit off for the welfare secretary not to be told of changes to the welfare system.

 

Other Secretaries of State are now openly laughing at Cameron’s oft-repeated boast that Cabinet government has been restored. Denting Cabinet collegiality at a time when a fair few ministries have yet to settle in the most contentious spending round in a generation is not a wise move.