Following this week’s budget, it appears as though the Labour party has finally started to take its role as the official opposition seriously. Not only did Jeremy Corbyn appear at the dispatch box modelling a sharper image but he also delivered his best performance yet, offering a critical but measured response to Osborne’s 2016 budget announcements.
Not entirely surprising, given that the Tory budget has left the opposition with a wide open goal. Labour has wasted no time in highlighting Osborne’s failure to meet his own targets, as he downgraded expectations for inflation, growth and wages while announcing that government borrowing would increase, despite previously optimistic claims. The party also presented its alternative economic approach that would see a balancing of the books, while permitting borrowing to fund capital investment and cracking down on tax avoidance- echoing plans outlined by Ed Balls in the lead up to the general election.
But it’s the Chancellor’s severe cuts to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) which have really given Labour political capital. Plans to lose £1 billion from the disability allowance pot that will impact over half a million people, led Jeremy Corbyn to declare that this budget has ‘unfairness at its very core’ and it would seem as though the country agrees with him. The announcement has predictably dominated media headlines but has also attracted public criticism from Conservative backbenchers and campaigners.
Partly driven by Osborne’s failings and partly due to pressure from his own MPs, Corbyn has responded responsibly to the recent announcements; a significant improvement since the Autumn Statement, when John McDonell waved Chairman Mao’s red book in the chamber. But amidst rumours that there is an internal plot to oust him, the leadership remains under close scrutiny and it would only take one move out of turn for the party machine to descend into chaos.