'Do you ever think you’re incompetent?: Chloe Smith gets 'Paxmaned' after Government's fuel tax U-turn

Political commentators compared the disastrous interview with a scene from political comedy The Thick of It

It should have been a rare day of good news and good headlines for the Government.

George Osborne, a politician who enjoys trying to wrong foot his opponents, stood up and unexpectedly announced during routine Parliamentary questions that he was scrapping the planned 3p rise in fuel duty due to come into effect in August.

But far from coup he was hoping for within 24 hours Mr Osborne’s surprise announcement had unravelled – undone by mismanagement, a junior minister being “Paxmaned” and the complete inability of the Treasury to provide a plausible explanation of where the money to pay for it was coming from.

Even the Sun, which had championed the fuel freeze in the first place, turned its teeth on the Government describing the u-turn as “the final unravelling of the most shambolic budget in memory”.

The whole affair was not so much an example of an “ominshambles” (although it was) – but like watching an entire episode of the political comedy The Thick of It which spawned the phrase.

The first mistake made by Mr Osborne was the surprise itself.

Either fearful that the news would leak out before he could announce it or perhaps because the decision had been rushed at the last minute the Chancellor somehow managed to ‘forget’ to tell his Cabinet colleagues what he was planning to do.

That led Justine Greening, who most people would assume as Transport Secretary, would have been in the loop on petrol prices, to give an interview to the Daily Telegraph ruling out a freeze.

Embarrassing but not disastrous.

But then someone had the bright idea of putting Chloe Smith, a junior Treasury minister, on Newsnight.

Until yesterday Ms Smith, 30, had been considered something of a rising Government star.

Despite suggestions that David Cameron only appointed because he wrongly thought she was an accountant until this week she had proved a safe pair of hands.

But on last night she was unable to convincingly answer a single question posed to her by Jeremy Paxman.

“When were you told?” he asked her seven times. She couldn’t say.

“How are you paying for this?” She didn’t have a clue.

“Do you ever think you’re incompetent?” Ouch.

One respected Westminster journalist watching tweeted: “That is one of the five worst ministerial interviews I have ever seen in 12 years.”

Her only support came from the ever off-message Tory backbencher Nadine Dorries who to use Ms Smith’s discomfort to compound her boss’s problems.

“If Osborne sent Chloe on (Newsnight) re scrapping 3p he is a coward as well as arrogant.”

By this afternoon at Prime Minister’s Questions the whole policy had unravelled. Not just in presentational terms but practically as well.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman was unable to say how the Government knew – just two months into the financial year - that there would be enough spending shortfall by departments to pay the £550 million the freeze will cost.

Aides were also unable to explain why is deficit reduction was the Government’s primary focus they were breaking their own rules by spending millions of pounds on a tax cut.

Not only that, but the £500 million only pays for the freeze until January when Mr Osborne will face the same dilemma yet over again. Over a year the total cost of the measure would cost the Treasury a further £1 billion.

Quite a lot of money when you’re in the middle of the biggest public spending squeeze for a generation.

In contrast to those real dilemmas the disaster of Chloe and the problems of the off-message Nadine will likely pale into embarrassed insignificance.

“Nadine is Nadine”, sighed the Prime Minister’s press secretary.

“What can you do?”

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?