As Fraser noted, Osborne blew an unprecedented opportunity on yesterday's Today programme. The danger inherent in a £1.4 trillion national debt is not a difficult argument to make. Tax hikes, inflation and soaring interest rates will be the progeny of Brown’s continued borrowing binge. Yet Osborne confined his attack to valid but esoteric points about credit ratings and a list of acronyms. Ken Clarke would not have made such an elementary political mistake. This has nothing to do with Osborne’s youth or alleged naïveté – Osborne’s broad case about the nation’s finances would be unanswerable if he stated it clearly. When he was clear, the Tories led by 18 points.
Osborne deserves credit for David Cameron’s leadership election, for averting the Election That Never Was, for re-branding the Tory party and his response to the 2008 pre-budget report. Against those are the Corfu scandal, which displayed staggering bad judgement, and his currently opaque economic message, which enables Brown to choose his ground. Osborne’s political instincts are mercurial. Yet he is the Tories' campaign manager, whilst Labour’s is Mandelson.
UPDATE: Much better speech from George Osborne this morning - attacking the stealth taxes in the Budget . Joe Murphy reports:
'Mr Osborne said the freeze in the tax-free allowance of £9,490 for a single pensioner aged 65 to 74 meant inflation of 3.7 per cent reduced its value in real terms by £351.13, effectively meaning higher income tax of £70.26 for a man on median earnings of £267 a week.
But the basic state pension will rise by just 2.5 per cent, which he said failed to match price rises, costing another £59.
“This Budget will hit pensioners' incomes,” said the shadow chancellor. “A stealth tax that hits pensioners hardest – that wasn't even mentioned by the Chancellor in his speech.”'
Much more of this direct, punchy and above all accessible approach is needed.