Leading article: What a shambles

Every time the Government caught a glimpse of blue sky... the rain came down again

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The Independent Online

Six weeks ago, David Cameron was still frequently hailed as a natural prime minister, a leader who looked the part and who carried himself with authority. Even those who disagreed with him were inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt for his surface charm and easy manner. His personal opinion poll ratings were negative, to be sure, but markedly less so than those of Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg.

Then, 39 days ago, George Osborne stood up in the House of Commons to deliver one of the least successful Budgets in modern history. Every day since then, as we chart today, one bad news story for the Government, and particularly for its dominant Conservative part, has followed another. Several of these presentational disasters arose from the Budget itself, as its measures unravelled for hours, then days, then weeks after Mr Osborne sat down. The Prime Minister and his inner council of four Cabinet ministers, the Quad, were steeled for adverse notices for the cut in the top rate of income tax, the "tax cut for the rich". They were not expecting a drubbing for the granny tax, the pasty tax and the charity tax.

While Mr Cameron was off balance, he was knocked again by an unforced error by Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, who urged people to panic-buy petrol in jerry cans. The headlines have been relentless since. Every time the Government caught a glimpse of blue sky, such as when Theresa May, the Home Secretary, announced the arrest of Abu Qatada, the troublesome cleric, the rain came down again – in this case when it turned out that she had got the date wrong.

Last week was the Government's worst since the election. On Monday, documents published by the Leveson inquiry exposed apparent collusion between Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Culture, and Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation in last year's bid for BSkyB. Mr Hunt's account of himself in the Commons on Wednesday was poor. Indeed, he claimed twice not to have had any conversations with News Corp's head of public affairs during the bid, when the evidence is to the contrary.

At the very least, Mr Hunt needs to return to the House to explain that discrepancy. His attempt to seek refuge behind the Leveson inquiry failed on Friday, when the judge refused to alter his timetable to allow Mr Hunt to give his evidence early. Mr Hunt should now explain himself fully in Parliament, and, having promised to disclose relevant documents to Leveson, he should now publish all his communications with News Corp, his special adviser and Nos 10 and 11 Downing Street.

But the most important news of last week was the failure of the British economy to respond to its purgative medicine. Even if, as Hamish McRae reports today, last week's figure is almost certain to be revised upwards (the average revision over the past 13 years has been +0.5 points), it is now beyond contradiction that Mr Osborne's prescription has failed.

This newspaper has argued since the coalition was formed that it planned to cut public spending too quickly. Now that this has been demonstrated, Mr Osborne, having disavowed a Plan B, has to stick with his mistaken policy – in the mistaken belief that he may at least be given some credit for consistency.

The Independent on Sunday has also long argued that Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne are not as clever as they think they are. Last week's metashambles should remove any doubt on that score. Mr Murdoch spoke on Thursday of the reverberations of the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone, saying: "You could feel the blast coming in the window."

Now Mr Cameron can feel the double blast of foolish and unprincipled closeness to Mr Murdoch, and of his failed economic policy, coming in the windows of Downing Street.