Leaders: No credit to stubborn Osborne on tax cuts

CONSERVATIVE Chancellor would be well-advised to heed his critics if only to safeguard his long-term political ambitions

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne in the House of Commons yesterday. Picture: PA
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne in the House of Commons yesterday. Picture: PA
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne in the House of Commons yesterday. Picture: PA

George Osborne cut a defiant figure ­yesterday as he vowed to keep going with his controversial tax credit cuts.

The Chancellor appeared unrepentant as he stood by his deeply unpopular policy which will hit the working poor and criticised attempts by the House of Lords to thwart him.

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Under attack from all directions, Mr Osborne did promise to take action to lessen the impact of the cuts on the most needy. But his pledge rang a little hollow as he said the cuts package was still very much on the agenda.

Mr Osborne, however, would be well advised to tread more carefully on this issue. Although the Conservatives have secured their first outright victory in a general election since the John Major era, their majority is a thin one and the opposition to the Chancellor’s proposals is wide-ranging and passionate.

Mr Osborne’s obvious anger at the House of Lords for daring to question his wisdom was not particularly endearing.

Talk of a constitutional crisis and blaming “unelected” Labour and Lib Dem peers smacks of him looking for an easy target rather than addressing the substance of their concerns.

Moreover, moaning about the Lords is a far from convincing approach when one considers that the Conservatives may have talked of reform but have always shied away from overhauling the Upper Chamber.

Unelected Labour and Lib Dem peers are no more elected than Conservative peers – including the tranche of newly appointed ones that David Cameron has recently elevated to the peerage. It is not just the House of Lords, which has concerns about Mr Osborne’s plans which will hit the poorest families by an estimated £1,300 on average in the interests of dealing with the deficit and cutting £4.4 billion from the welfare bill.

The Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has expressed her reservations about the proposals. Others have been warning Mr Osborne for weeks that he could come unstuck on this one.

But the Lords’ decision was the most high-profile kick in the pants for the Chancellor. After Mr Osborne’s remarks yesterday there must be concern that the Chancellor has failed to heed the lesson that the Lords, his opponents and some within his own party were trying to teach him.

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For some time now, Mr Osborne has been regarded as a brilliant political tactician. But on this occasion his political antennae appear to have failed him.

He is a man of ambition, who is seen as the most likely man to replace Cameron when the time comes. With a touch of mischief, the SNP’s deputy leader Stewart Hosie suggested that his chances of being Prime Minister had “just gone up in a puff of ermine-clad smoke”.

If Mr Osborne is to achieve his ambitions he will have to learn to take people with him in a way that he has not managed to do on tax credits.

For the many people who are nothing like as comfortably off as the Chancellor, and who stand to lose out as a result of his policies, matters are more pressing.

Yesterday’s developments will do little to reassure them about the financial challenges they are facing.

Open-minded about sexuality

In less enlightened times, discussions about same-sex relationships were taboo when it came to educating children in our classrooms.

Things have moved on and we are no longer living in the dark ages when it comes to adopting a tolerant and understanding approach to loving human relationships in whatever form they take.

Despite the huge amount of progress made on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LBGT) issues, it appears there is still work to be done.

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Yesterday Holyrood’s petitions committee heard from the campaign group TIE (Time for Inclusive Education). According to TIE, Scotland’s education system still suffers from a shortfall of teaching lesbian and gay issues.

TIE described the situation as a “national disgrace” as it called for every Scottish school to have at least one teacher trained in teaching children about LBGT issues. There will be people who find it difficult to agree with TIE’s claims or its use of the term national disgrace. But the full range of human sexual behaviour should not be ignored in the classroom. Indeed it would be wrong to do so in a political era that has seen the successful passage of equal marriage legislation amid much joy from the LBGT community and beyond.

A healthy attitude towards sexuality is now apparent in all walks of life. The worlds of politics, sport, celebrity and many others are inhabited by role models with diverse sexual orientation and that is the way it should be.

The lack of openness on the subject which plagued previous generations took a terrible personal toll. Many people suffered enormously because they were unable to live their lives in an open and supportive environment.

Thankfully society has moved on and our education system must reflect that.