George Osborne’s speech on the need for £25 billion more cuts has opened up some strange dividing lines in Westminster. Labour has done exactly what the Chancellor wanted and questioned the need for the cuts. Nick Clegg has also fallen into place as Osborne hoped and moaned about them being unfair. But Clegg has found an unlikely ally in Iain Duncan Smith, who has let it be known that he does not much like the idea that Osborne could cut a further £1 billion from the welfare bill. So who did Boris Johnson cosy up to this morning when he had his say?
Well, the Mayor was certainly keen to suggest that he’s not in Camp Clegg, managing to paint the Deputy Prime Minister as a, er, condom for the Prime Minister:
‘I don’t want to get into some kind of endless ding-dong with poor old Cleggers. He’s there to fill a very important ceremonial function, as David Cameron’s lap dog-come-prophylactic protection device for all the difficult things David Cameron has to do. He’s a lap dog whose been skinned and turned into a shield.’
(Is this better or worse for Cameron than being described as a condom himself?)
But though Boris has publicly disagreed with the Chancellor on numerous topics — housing, police cuts, airports, Crossrail funding and Chinese visas to name a few — the Mayor appeared to support Osborne this morning:
‘I think George is right to say there is more to be done to get the deficit under control and to get borrowing under control. The coalition should be looking at all areas of public spending.’
Or was he being supportive? Read back through that quote. ‘The coalition should be looking at all areas of public spending.’ Is that actually a hint that like Liam Fox and other Conservatives, Boris thinks the notion of cutting welfare while ring-fencing the NHS and international development is a little ridiculous? His next statement might offer some clues:
‘I am still slightly perplexed about why we still give aid money to some countries who are on the path to prosperity…do you know what, one of the great things is that I don’t run the foreign aid budget. Justine Greening does a fantastic job’
So perhaps we’re back to Boris being a jellyfish again: he seems all supportive, but secretly he’s still stinging away at his friends and foes alike.