The day after the night before, or the Monday after Friday’s sensational resignation of Iain Duncan Smith and the internal chaos that raged in the Conservative Party over the weekend.
Yesterday in Parliament promised to be an entertaining affair. The Prime Minister was due to make a statement on the EU Summit and would have to face questions on the budget chaos and departure of IDS. The new Work and Pensions Secretary, Stephen Crabb would inform the House of Commons on the Government’s re-think on cuts to disability payments and Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell was permitted an urgent question on the budget. Overall the stage should have been set for a very uncomfortable afternoon for the Conservatives and in particular, for the Prime Minister and George Osborne.
The Conservatives landed the first blow, they threw the Labour front bench by fielding the very capable, but very dull and heavily scripted, Treasury Minister, David Gauke, who answered the urgent question. Mr Gauke skilfully united the Conservative benches with the infamous ‘long term economic plan’ soundbite as the Labour Party, feeble in their attacks, failed to land a punch on the experienced Mr Gauke. However the hashtag '#wheresgeorgehiding' did start to appear on Twitter.
The PM was next up. Despite rumours that David 'Flashman' Cameron had hurled offensive four letter words at IDS he decided to take a new angle and poured praise on his former Cabinet colleague, even if this was the person who over the weekend had single handily demolished all the work Cameron and Osborne had done to detoxify the Tory brand. The nasty party, reading between the not so subliminal lines of IDS, were back.
The Prime Minister then took aim at the Labour Party, ripping into the comrades and seemed to be enjoying himself. At the end of his statement the Conservative back benches were cheering and bellowing ‘hear, hear’. A weekend is now it appears a long time in politics!
So, could comrade Corbyn succeed where his hapless Shadow Chancellor had failed? The Labour Leader shouted and stumbled through his prepared text. The only thing that was a bigger shambles than the budget itself was the Labour Leader’s response. He had an open goal and he tripped over the ball, not even mentioning IDS once. Cameron, who by comparison looked well Prime Ministerial, could not believe his luck.
Despite the lack of an effective opposition, unless you count the Conservative back benchers as HM Opposition, there is still internal strife in the Conservative Party. The PM tried to regain control of the ship yesterday with concessions to Eurosceptic backbenchers and a cave in over the imposition of VAT on women’s sanitary products and solar panels.
In a further effort to end the internal strife, a slightly bewildered Mr Crabb then made his statement to MPs. He said: ‘Behind every statistic is a human being and perhaps sometimes in government we forget that. I am absolutely clear that a compassionate and fair welfare system should not just be about numbers.’ Hear, hear, cried the Tory backbenchers. Poor guy, the first time he spoke in parliament after his promotion was to do a u-turn.
But this u-turn away from cuts to benefit payments will need to be addressed somehow and Cameron and Osborne have very little wriggle room. We await to see whether this means tax rises, another round of spending cuts in Government departments or more borrowing.
Whatever decisions are taken, the Conservative leadership can be thankful of one thing, they have been blessed with the most ineffective, feeble opposition party in almost 40 years. The only people they need to worry about are their own back benchers.