That’ll be the end of George Osborne’s dream of leading the Tories, then.
As predicted, the Chancellor didn’t turn up to answer an Urgent Question in Parliament about how he’ll balance his Budget, now that the changes to Personal Independence Payments aren’t taking place. It leaves £1.3 billion per year to be found.
Instead, Treasury minister David Gauke turned up and refused to answer any questions about the black hole in the Finance Bill – a hole totalling £4.4 billion by the end of the current Parliament.
John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, said Osborne’s refusal to appear was an insult to Parliament.
He said an enormous hole had appeared in the Budget within five days of its announcement, leaving the whole process in chaos.
Shouldn’t the Chancellor rip it up and start again?
And he wanted a reassurance that there would be no further cuts to disability benefits for the life of this Parliament.
Gauke had nothing but platitudes in response – and many of his statements were wrong.
He said child poverty has decreased. It has risen.
He said the proportion of tax paid by the richest one per cent had increased. But has it increased in real terms?
He said nothing about where the government was going to find £4.4 billion by the end of the Parliament.
So Labour MPs piled on the humiliation while a notably low number of Tories stood up to defend their absentee Chancellor.
George Howarth noted that Harold Wilson once said a week in politics was a long time. He asked, how long does a long-term economic plan last? Three days? Four?
Yvette Cooper asked where the revised Budget scorecard is, and added that Osborne is not fit to be Chancellor if he can’t respond to an Urgent Question.
Osborne’s absence was also highlighted in the social media. “George Osborne. The elephant not in the room,” tweeted Michael Deacon.
Back in the Chamber, Chris Leslie was asking how MPs could possibly be expected to vote on the Budget if the numbers were being re-written.
Again, Gauke had no answer.
He tried to say spending on disabled people had increased, but everybody already knows this is because, while more people are receiving benefit, they are being given much less money.
On Twitter, Fwestivus added: “Disability benefits spending has increased? Oh like assessments costing £600m more than they save and spending the rest fighting appeals?”
After 45 minutes of debate – half as much again as was scheduled, we had no explanation of how the £4.4bn black hole will be filled, and no confirmation it won’t come from elsewhere in the DWP budget.
We can only conclude that the Tories don’t know what they’re going to do.
When can we have our ‘no confidence’ motion?
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