This was a Budget that Conservatives had been waiting a long time for – not just the five uncomfortable years of Coalition haggling and compromise but the 19 long years since Ken Clarke delivered his last Budget in November 1996. Gone were the concessions to Lib Dem wooliness. This was an unapologetically Tory budget….and, simultaneously, a very Labour one too.
It was delivered by a Chancellor at the peak of his powers. Osborne deserves a significant share of the credit for the Conservatives’ successful election campaign and a ConHome survey this week placed him one percentage point behind Boris Johnson as Tory activists preferred choice to be the next party leader. The infamous ‘Omnishambles’ Budget of 2012 seems like a very long time ago.
There was plenty of ‘true blue’ substance for Conservative MPs – fuel duty frozen, a higher tax on new luxury cars to fund investment in the road network, making the BBC fund the cost of providing free TV licences for the over 75s, extra spending on defence and a cut to corporation tax. He even delivered the long-awaited inheritance tax cut – blaming the Liberal Democrats for the delay.
But it was the Chancellor’s audacity in stealing Labour’s clothes that is the real stand-out from this budget. A National Living Wage, tax cuts for those on low incomes, £8bn of extra spending on the NHS, more powers for many Labour-controlled northern cities, and clamping down on ‘Non-Doms’ are policies that most Labour MPs would struggle to oppose – indeed, some have been lifted straight out of the Labour manifesto. The Chancellor has always been a master tactician and he used this Budget to outflank the Labour Party and set a number of political traps that the next Labour leader will have to negotiate.
Osborne’s desire to be Conservative Leader is well known but, however he fairs when David Cameron stands aside, he may well feel that today’s budget will have staked his claim to be the best Labour Chancellor the country has ever had.
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