Chancellor walks a tightrope
These are trying times for George Osborne.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has become the subject of repeated whispering campaigns, increasingly being singled out for criticism for Britain's economic stagnation.
Whether or not he deserves the bulk of the blame for the nation's obstinate refusal to lift itself from recession is clearly a matter for debate. But senior political figures inside the Conservative Party are increasingly nervous about his decision to freeze the inheritance tax threshold until 2017. And the poll ratings are equally damning of the Chancellor, who has some serious rethinking to do ahead of next month's Budget.
These voices of dissent from within are not unknowns on the margins of political life. For example, former Cabinet minister and adviser to Osborne Lord Forsyth called the decision to freeze the threshold at £325,000 "unfair" and "very disappointing", especially considering the chancellor pledged to raise it to £1 million before the election – in a move which scared Gordon Brown off holding a snap election.
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Likewise, leading backbencher David Davies said the move would "impact ordinary people".
It is uncomfortable stuff, not only for Mr Osborne but increasingly, we suspect, for his boss one door down in Downing Street. The latest round of criticism of the Chancellor is increasingly public, as patience with his economic programme starts to wear thin. When he first made the inheritance tax pledge in 2007, he boosted Tory poll ratings by five points, almost overnight. That contrasts unpleasantly with the Guardian/ICM survey which put the Tories on 29 per cent – roughly the level the Tories reached during the John Major years – and Labour on 41 per cent.
Mr Osborne has six weeks to prepare for this year's Budget. It could be his last.