George Osborne’s treatment of the poor was branded “despicable” as he was labelled “the most right-wing chancellor” ever by Guardian writer Polly Toynbee in a jaw-dropping TV exchange.
The former chancellor-turned-Evening Standard editor gave a wide-ranging interview to BBC Two’s Newsnight on Tuesday in the wake of Monday’s Budget.
After being quizzed by Evan Davis on everything from whether he wanted the Conservatives to win the 2015 election to Jeremy Corbyn’s chances of becoming prime minister, Osborne became locked in a debate with Toynbee.
Davis called her “closer” to him politically than two-thirds of the Tory party, before Osborne laughed and said “I think Polly is more shocked than I am”.
Toynbee then ripped into Osborne, who presided over £12bn of welfare cuts, for cutting the public sector and making the public “hate people on benefits”.
She told Davis: “It is unthinkable that you could say such a thing.
“This man has done such harm and damage to this country, he has been the most right-wing Chancellor we’ve ever had.
“If you look at yesterday’s budget, if you look at the cuts still to come, to say nothing of what he has done before, even if you accept his economic argument, which I do not because he made the recession deeper by such extreme austerity
″... if you look at how he tips his cuts, at the billions he has taken from the poorest in benefits, and then abused them with endless talk about people with their blinds down, trying to make people hate anyone on benefits despite the fact that the great majority of them, as you well know, are in work, often working at two jobs ... if they had the blinds down it is because they have been working all night, probably.
“Your treatment of the poorest people in this country has been despicable. And I would not wish to be in no way associated, and nor do I think that your ideas are of the centre.”
Osborne had earlier defended his close ally and former prime minister David Cameron for having introduced gay marriage.
Defending himself, Osborne said: “We were left in a desperate economic and political situation by the Labour government she supported, and cleaned up the mess but not to your satisfaction.”
Toynbee then continued to hammer the Evening Standard editor over his newspaper asking readers to donate to help poorer children.
She said: “I like the fact that your newspaper now runs a campaign for poor children in London, which is hypocrisy beyond any when you could think anything human.”
Osborne asked if this was “the sort of extreme language” which was contributing to toxic political debate, to which Toynbee replied “there was no violence”.
Asked earlier if Osborne had missed the rise of the gig economy and how the public had turned against the more brutal aspects of capitalism, he said he was “grasping towards” an answer when he introduced the National Living Wage, which falls short of the full rate the Living Wage Foundation says is enough to live on.
He went on: “But it is true to say that an economy, and this is all quite 19th Century Marxist ... but an economy where the returns to capital are much greater to the returns to labour is one where support for a capitalist economy is going to decline.”
Osborne added, however, that he thought the Conservatives could not hang on to power by trying to “outspend their opponents” in the Labour Party.
He also said that the next election will be won from the centre ground, adding: “People don’t want a choice between Jeremy Corbyn and Jacob Rees-Mogg.”