Prime Minister David Cameron was urged in an opinion poll to sack Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne as voters question austerity measures designed to tackle the U.K.’s budget deficit.
A YouGov Plc (YOU) survey published in the Sunday Times newspaper today showed 27 percent of voters think Foreign Secretary William Hague would make a better chancellor than Osborne. The poll, which questioned 1,525 adults on March 7-8, also called on the premier to reduce aid to poor countries as budget cuts bite at home.
Amid mounting questions about austerity, Osborne is set to present his budget to Parliament on March 20. Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable and others have called on the U.K. to look at whether the balance between budget cuts and growth-stimulating measures is right.
“To be in a position where 10 days before the budget the whole strategy is now being openly debated in the Cabinet -- you’ve got Boris Johnson, the Mayor, the International Monetary Fund, Vince Cable, even Theresa May today casting doubt on the chancellor’s growth plans for the future, clearly there’s a problem,” the opposition Labour Party’s treasury spokesman Ed Balls told Sky News today.
“The markets, like the country, are crying out for a plan for growth to get the economy moving because they know without that it can’t work,” Balls said.
Britain’s economy shrank 0.3 percent in the final quarter of 2012, leaving it on the brink of a triple-dip recession. Labour says the lack of growth is the result of Osborne’s spending cuts to narrow the budget deficit. Moody’s Investors Service cut the U.K.’s top credit rating last month, citing the weak growth outlook and challenges to fiscal consolidation.
A separate survey by polling company Opinium Research LLP for the Observer newspaper today found 58 percent of voters believe the U.K.’s austerity program is harming the economy against 20 percent who think it’s the correct course. Opinium questioned 1,950 voters March 5-7 and weighted the replies to represent national opinion.
Cameron and Osborne are closely aligned on economic policy. The premier gave a speech on March 7 saying there’s “no alternative” to pursuing austerity measures to cut the U.K.’s record budget gap. Deputy Prime Minster Nick Clegg, a Liberal Democrat, said today that the austerity measures and investment in growth were pitched at the right level.
“To be unflinching is not to be unthinking,” Clegg told his party’s spring rally in Brighton, southern England. “The idea that the choice is between a cruel and unbending Plan A and a mythical Plan B is simply not the case.”
“Balancing the books is a judgment, not a science,” Clegg said. “Our plan has always allowed room for maneuver.”
Yesterday Home Secretary Theresa May appeared to make a subtle bid for the party leadership if Cameron fails to win a majority in 2015 elections. She set out an economic plan to a conference of grassroots Conservative supporters in London and said the Tories must “govern for the whole country.” She also appealed to party traditionalists, suggesting the U.K. withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights.
Cameron was given qualified support from foreign office minister, Conservative Sayeeda Warsi. “He is doing a very difficult job in very difficult circumstances and he commands the support of large parts of his party,” Warsi told Sky News.
Cameron and Osborne’s economic strategy was attacked by former Conservative Defense Secretary Liam Fox, who criticized “multiple taxation of the same money,” describing it as an “iniquity that creates the wrong pattern of behavior”.
“We pay tax on our income,” Fox told the Sunday Times newspaper. “Then if we save we pay tax again. If we invest in businesses or property and try to move our money, we will be hit by capital gains tax or stamp duty. Finally, if we have the audacity to die, we get the indignity of inheritance tax.”
-- Editors: Jeffrey Donovan, Stephen Cunningham
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