Will Osborne’s clear strategy affect the outcome of the General Election?

19 March 2015, Blog

It is staggering to think that in 1947 a Chancellor of the Exchequer was forced to resign for leaking parts of his budget to a journalist in members lobby a few minutes before the speech was given. Hugh Dalton did the “honourable” thing and tendered his resignation. Things are rather different now – parts of today’s Budget speech, around pension annuities for example, had been leaked to the press more than a week ago.

In his 6th Budget speech, George Osborne’s strategy was clear – to demonstrate that the years of austerity undertaken by the Coalition Government have materially improved the state of the economy. Ed Miliband’s argument was also apparent – to argue that the economic improvement of recent months has not translated into the “real world”. This has been the dividing line between the main parties for some time now –  and explains why George Osborne tried to argue that “living standards” have improved since 2010.

So what was in the Budget that might affect the outcome of the General Election? Well, the changes to ISAs to encourage first time buyers save for a deposit is certainly designed to help the Tories appeal to the younger generation. The changes to pension annuities are certainly yet another attempt to appeal to pensioners – who of course are much more likely to vote than any other age group. The Lib Dems will argue that they have demonstrated their influence in Government by the raising, again, of the personal tax allowance threshold.

The small print of the Budget Red Book is always the crucial document to study – often more so than the Chancellor’s speech in the House of Commons. There is for example additional investment announced for children mental health services (£118m to ensure all children and young people have access to the treatment they require) and more support for veterans who are more likely than most to suffer from mental illness.

Labour will undoubtedly argue that the Tories plans to reduce and eliminate the deficit are too fast. During his speech today Osborne sought to “shut down” Ed Balls’ argument that the Tories plan to reduce the size of the state to 1930s levels. Under the revised plans that Osborne has to run a smaller surplus in 2019-2020, the Tories will argue that their plans would be to take the size of the state back to a level last seen in 2000 (when Ed Balls and Miliband were Labour Special Advisers to Gordon Brown).

Where are the Lib Dems in all of this? In a parliamentary first, Danny Alexander will present a separate Lib Dem mini budget to Parliament later this week that will set out their stall. It will be interesting to see how many Conservative MPs turn out to support that.

Many were predicting the Budget would be a “game changer” and the last opportunity that Osborne and Cameron had to shift public opinion and secure an overall Conservative majority. The polls in the coming days will be pored over for any evidence that the Budget has reached beyond SW1.

It is staggering to think that in 1947 a Chancellor of the Exchequer was forced to resign for leaking parts of his budget to a journalist in members lobby a few minutes before the speech was given. Hugh Dalton did the “honourable” thing and tendered his resignation. Things are rather different now – parts of today’s Budget speech, around pension annuities for example, had been leaked to the press more than a week ago.

In his 6th Budget speech, George Osborne’s strategy was clear – to demonstrate that the years of austerity undertaken by the Coalition Government have materially improved the state of the economy. Ed Miliband’s argument was also apparent – to argue that the economic improvement of recent months has not translated into the “real world”. This has been the dividing line between the main parties for some time now –  and explains why George Osborne tried to argue that “living standards” have improved since 2010.

So what was in the Budget that might affect the outcome of the General Election? Well, the changes to ISAs to encourage first time buyers save for a deposit is certainly designed to help the Tories appeal to the younger generation. The changes to pension annuities are certainly yet another attempt to appeal to pensioners – who of course are much more likely to vote than any other age group. The Lib Dems will argue that they have demonstrated their influence in Government by the raising, again, of the personal tax allowance threshold.

The small print of the Budget Red Book is always the crucial document to study – often more so than the Chancellor’s speech in the House of Commons. There is for example additional investment announced for children mental health services (£118m to ensure all children and young people have access to the treatment they require) and more support for veterans who are more likely than most to suffer from mental illness.

Labour will undoubtedly argue that the Tories plans to reduce and eliminate the deficit are too fast. During his speech today Osborne sought to “shut down” Ed Balls’ argument that the Tories plan to reduce the size of the state to 1930s levels. Under the revised plans that Osborne has to run a smaller surplus in 2019-2020, the Tories will argue that their plans would be to take the size of the state back to a level last seen in 2000 (when Ed Balls and Miliband were Labour Special Advisers to Gordon Brown).

Where are the Lib Dems in all of this? In a parliamentary first, Danny Alexander will present a separate Lib Dem mini budget to Parliament later this week that will set out their stall. It will be interesting to see how many Conservative MPs turn out to support that.

Many were predicting the Budget would be a “game changer” and the last opportunity that Osborne and Cameron had to shift public opinion and secure an overall Conservative majority. The polls in the coming days will be pored over for any evidence that the Budget has reached beyond SW1.

James Turgoose is a Director in JBP’s London office.

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