George Osborne’s reputation among businessmen has bounced back after his speech to the Tory conference outlining tough measures to rein in public spending.
Labour has branded the shadow Chancellor the Tories’ “Achilles heel” and a “boy in a man’s job” and tried to exploit doubts in the City of London about his credentials.
But a ComRes survey of 184 leading businessmen for The Independent found a dramatic improvement in Mr Osborne’s ratings since his conference speech, in which he announced plans to freeze public sector pay, raise the state retirement age and curb tax credits for people on middle incomes.
The number of businessmen who say they are confident in Mr Osborne’s ability jumped from 36 per cent last month to 55 per cent this month. The proportion who think he is “out of his depth” dropped from 46 to 36 per cent, while the number who believe he “lacks experience” fell from 75 to 68 per cent.
Seven out of 10 business leaders believe the shadow Chancellor understands business, up slightly from 65 per cent last month; 64 per cent think he has the right ideas about how to manage the British economy, up from 49 per cent.
Seventy-three per cent feel he would make a better chancellor than Alistair Darling, compared to 60 per cent last month. In contrast, Mr Darling’s “confidence rating” has dropped from 25 to 21 per cent in the past month, while Gordon Brown’s rating remained at 20 per cent.
Mr Cameron’s “confidence rating” rose from 60 to 67 per cent, while Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrats’ Treasury spokesman, who was criticised after launching plans for a “mansion tax”, saw his rating slip a little from 60 to 58 per cent.
Nick Clegg enjoys the confidence of 24 per cent of businessmen (up from 20 per cent last month). Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary (41 per cent) is outgunned by his Tory counterpart Kenneth Clarke, the most highly-rated politician among business leaders on 73 per cent.
According to ComRes, business leaders see little sign of “green shoots” in the economy. The proportion who detect signs of recovery in their sector dropped slightly from 49 to 48 per cent over the past month. The number who see no signs of recovery rose from 41 to 43 per cent.
This finding chimes with yesterday’s official figures showing that Britain remains in recession, dashing the Government’s hopes of a return to growth.
Ministers insisted Britain was still on course to achieve the Chancellor’s Budget prediction of growth by the turn of the year, and that the Treasury always expected negative growth in the third quarter. But the figures undermined Labour’s claims that Britain is “better placed” to withstand the slowdown in the global economy. Mr Brown said last month that “we are now coming out of recession” and Mr Darling said on Wednesday: “The worst of the recession is behind us.”
Mr Osborne said the “deeply disappointing” figures showed the Government’s anti-recession measures were not working. He added: “There are many millions of people who will be deeply concerned to see that Britain is still in recession six months after France and Germany came out of recession. It destroys the myth that Britain was better prepared.”
Mr Cable said that despite the Government's stimulus package, the economy still faced massive structural problems: “This news adds to serious concerns over the realism of Government plans to deal with the burgeoning public debt. It is critical ministers spell out a credible path as to how they will deal with the deficit.”