Peter Hoskin

The unravelling continues apace

The unravelling continues apace
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Has Brown got away with his horror Budget?  Reading the Populus poll in this morning's Times, you might be tempted to say he has.  Sure, there's some bad news in there for the government: trust in Dave 'n' George's ability to manage the economy has hit an all-time high, and only 12 percent of respondents think that the measures outlined in the PBR will be sufficient to deal with our country's fiscal woes.  But Labour types will also seize on those numbers which show quite high levels of support for the individual proposals annouced on Wednesday.  78 percent back the bonus tax.  61 percent back the capping of public sector pay increases.  And – surprisingly, to my mind – 51 percent back the national insurance increase.  That, and 59 percent believe significant cuts "should not be made until the economic recovery is much stronger".

But then you turn to Patrick Wintour's behind-the-scenes account of the PBR in today's Guardian, and, suddenly, it's all looking bad again for our PM.  It seems various Cabinet sources are briefing that Brown is "still in denial about the scale of the cuts required," and that he blocked Alistair Darling's plan to raise VAT above 17.5 percent in favour of the national insurance hike.  Now, you can argue about which of the two measures would be more regressive – see Guido here on the VAT hike, although the Guardian claims that Darling "would have protected the poor" – or about which will will raise more money for the Exchequer.  But the message that articles like this send out remains, rightly or wrongly, the same: that even the government doesn't believe in the PBR.  And, two days after it was delivered, that's a very damaging message indeed.