John Woodcock: Tories gamble again over the economy

David Cameron and his ministers had better hope that the summer sun has healing power - they really need it after the past few weeks.

John Woodcock: Tories gamble again over the economy
John Woodcock: Tories gamble again over the economy

The Andy Coulson affair and the Prime Minister's failure to get to grips with the phone-hacking crisis is in itself serious enough. In opposition, Cameron and George Osborne were so determined to appoint Coulson that they closed their ears to all warnings.

Basic common sense must have told them at the time that News International's 'single rogue reporter' defence stretched the bounds of credibility. But they gambled that those assurances would not be unpicked despite the mounting evidence. They ended up losing.

Perceptions of Cameron and Osborne's judgement and credibility have rightly plummeted over hacking and Coulson. The big question is how that will translate into the core areas of government.

Unfortunately, they are taking a similar gamble with public finances, ignoring the alarm bells and hoping for the best. This week's sluggish growth figures show ministers' dogmatic commitment to overly severe cuts is denting the UK economy's ability to return to growth, causing significant longer-term damage. Yet - just like over hacking - they are digging in when they should be holding their hands up and changing course.

The Tory straitjacket is making it impossible to pursue credible measures to get the economy on track. So ministers fall back on spinning a line - assuring the public that everything will be fine and blaming someone else. The last time the figures went wrong the Chancellor blamed the snow. Maybe this time they will try to pin it on William and Kate for getting married and causing a public holiday at the wrong time.

None of this makes for a happy ship, as shown by the spate of briefings and leaked letters springing up in the papers. A defining verdict on this administration from the public is still a fair way off. But the public will no longer give the Government the benefit of the doubt.

David Cameron may return from holiday with a suntan, but the mask he tried to wear when he first entered Downing Street has slipped irretrievably.

John Woodcock is Labour MP for Barrow and Furness, and a former spokesman for ex-prime minister Gordon Brown.

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