Chancellor sends flunkey to ‘defend the indefensible’
“COWARDLY” George Osborne ducked the Commons yesterday amid a crisis that threatens to bring down his entire Budget.
The Chancellor refused to turn up to answer urgent questions about the status of brutal cuts to disability benefits proposed in the Budget.
Labour MPs shouted: “Where is he?” and “Frit” as Treasury Minister David Gauke stood in for him at the despatch box.
And shadow chancellor John McDonnell said his refusal to attend was “unacceptable to the country and insulting to Parliament.”
He extended his sympathy to Mr Gauke, saying the Chancellor had sent him out to “defend the indefensible.”
But he said: “It is deeply disappointing that George Osborne is cowardly hiding behind his junior minister instead of showing some leadership in a crisis of his own making.”
The Chancellor has apparently backtracked on plans to cut £4 billion from personal independence payments but come up with no answers about how to plug the black hole left in the Budget.
The climbdown came after threats of back-bench rebellion against the cut and the explosive resignation of work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith.
Mr McDonnell said he wanted to seek assurances about whether other benefits would be cut to make up the difference.
“Over 600,000 disabled people and their families have been caused considerable distress over the last week and they need that reassurance their benefits are safe,” he said.
Concluding his response in a rowdy Commons, he stormed: “Within five days an enormous hole has opened up in the Budget.
“Isn’t the prudent thing for the Chancellor to do to withdraw this Budget and start again?
“This is no way to deliver a Budget and no way to manage an economy.”
Stephen Crabb formally announced the climb down over the cuts to disability benefits in his first statement as the new Work and Pensions Secretary.
The government has also been forced to accept two Labour amendments to the Finance Bill, which will be voted on today.
Mr McDonnell said: “The Chancellor and David Cameron knew that if they hadn’t climbed-down on the tampon tax and solar jobs tax they were heading for defeat and would have lost the first votes on a Budget debate since 1994.”