James Forsyth

The government’s strategy has kept the child benefit story running

The government's strategy has kept the child benefit story running
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We have heard much since the coalition was formed about how Cabinet government has been restored. The child benefit flap reveals how limited this restoration is. There was no Cabinet approval of the decision and, as Andrew Grice confirms this morning, Iain Duncan-Smith was unaware of the change until the morning of the announcement.

The other thing that strikes me, as someone who supports the idea and thinks it is potentially good politics, is the very odd approach to spinning this story. Sending David Cameron round the broadcast studios in the morning and then again in the evening to say ‘sorry’ about this policy and suggest possible compensatory measures was, obviously, going to keep the story going and take away from the essential message that the Tories are prepared to ask their own to take a fair share of the burden of dealing with the deficit.

In a fortnight’s time, we will have the comprehensive spending reviews. What will be announced then will put this whole child benefit business in context. I still think the strategic gain of preventing Ed Miliband and the left-wing process from describing the whole deficit reduction programme as divisive, with us or against us politics is worthwhile. But not telling Cabinet colleagues and appearing to hint at a backtrack have caused unnecessary problems.