George Osborne is a man under attack. There’s nothing new about chancellors attracting criticism - at a recent conference I heard Norman (now Lord) Lamont volunteer a view that while in the post he was the most unpopular man in the country which, given that Graham Taylor was England manager for his entire tenure at 11 Downing Street, was quite an achievement.
What’s significant about George Osborne’s predicament is that the attacks are being launched from usually friendly soil - business organisations who initially backed the chancellor’s plan A to cut spending, shrink the state and let the private sector pick up the slack and drive economic growth. Whether you blame it on the Eurozone crisis, the last government or this one, the fact is that UK plc hasn’t hit its growth targets, and organisations representing businesses who are seeing reduced profits or even losses are increasingly focusing their ire on George Osborne.
What we all agree on is that we need a plan for growth, and I’m concerned that George Osborne has form when it comes to launching “pro-growth” measures that are actually just a soundbite.
Of course I’m referring to the now clearly groundless soundbite that liberalising Sunday trading laws for the Olympics would “send a message that Britain was open for business”. It’s done no such thing, just spreading the same amount of trade around differently to larger stores instead of local shops. If the chancellor really wants to promote growth, I would advise him to look at the local businesses who want to invest, and urge him to give them the tools to revive the economy. Rather than damaging local shops, George Osborne should be nurturing them.
While I am concerned about the future of Sunday trading restrictions, I am also encouraged by the debate that has unfolded in recent weeks. We have seen opinions on all sides, but the consensus from newspaper leader writers, politicians and commentators is that the current compromise works well.