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George Osborne Might Learn From Those 'Vested Interests'

03/04/2013 12:07 BST | Updated 02/06/2013 10:12 BST

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Poor old George. I imagine he's used to it by now, but that feeling of isolation must still engulf him, as it did in his school days, when, as a young boy named Gideon, he would look around the playground for support, only to find that everyone had turned against him.

"You're wrong," he'd tell his adversaries. "And you're wrong too," he'd add, as those middle-grounders drifted away. And then even the people he thought he could count on started shaking their heads. "You're all wrong!" he'd yell, and run back to his bedroom with flushed cheeks and rebellious plans to change his name to George, so that more people would like him.

Thirty years later, even as George, Mr Osborne is still grappling with the same issues. First, his enemies launched a scathing attack on his austerity plans. Then the Tory press turned against him. And now, church groups and charities - many of whom have tried to keep out of politics but can't hold in their views any longer - are speaking out against the cuts being made to the income of the UK's poorest families.

"You're all wrong!" Mr Osborne will tell them today, on his visit to a supermarket in Kent. "These vested interests always complain," he will say, "with depressingly predictable outrage."

Damn those groups with a vested interest in equality and fairness, he must be thinking. Damn those whose main aim is to remove families from poverty and maintain a decent standard of living for all. How dare they speak out for the parts of society who have no voice? What right do they have to express outrage on behalf of those who can barely afford to eat, let alone educate their children in an expensive private school?

The truth is: Church groups and charities do have vested interests. I have seen these vested interests first-hand. During the research for my latest novel, Feral Youth, I got involved with various organisations that deal with low-income families and individuals, many of them doing incredible work combatting homelessness, addiction, youth crime, gangs and child poverty. I talked to charity founders, volunteers, mentors, youth workers and administrators, and I felt the passion and rage bubbling through their blood when I asked about the effects of this government's austerity plans.

Mr Osborne is so busy shouting "you're wrong!" at his naysayers, he can't actually hear what they're saying. If he stopped for a second to listen to their arguments, he might learn that the church groups and charities - as well as the neutral parties such as the National Housing Federation, who on Saturday announced that Osborne's bedroom tax would actually cost us £23bn more, as opposed to saving us money - have some interesting things to say. He might learn that most Britons have seen through his 'strivers vs shirkers' rhetoric and that, no matter how many Heather Frost scapegoats his team can dredge up, the people who work on the front line, who see poverty and vulnerability every day of their lives, can see that the Tories' 'bedroom tax' and cuts to council tax benefits will push huge numbers of already-disadvantaged families and individuals into a state of desperate poverty.

If, for a moment, George were to stop chanting his tired old chant, he might even learn from his adversaries with their "vested interests". He might stop to think about where they came from and why so many people support them and how he could revise his austerity plans to incorporate some of their thinking into his policies. Because, you know, a vested interest in equality doesn't seem like such a bad thing to me.