Budget 2013: What George Osborne said... and what he meant
The Chancellor said another eurozone storm would hit the UK economy hard. But John Rentoul interprets this as a plea to the public not to blame him
Wednesday 20 March 2013
What he said Mr Deputy Speaker, this is a Budget for people who aspire to work hard and get on.
What he meant This is the favoured version of the infinite variations of the "people who work hard and play by the rules" line coined by Bill Clinton in 1992, although it has the unfortunate echo of, "My goodness, is that the time? I really must get on."
What he said This is a Budget for those who aspire to own their own home, who aspire to get their first job, or start their own business; a Budget for those who want to save for their retirement and provide for their children. It is a Budget for our Aspiration Nation.
What he meant A bit of a dud slogan from the Prime Minister's speech last week, but the political strategist Lynton Crosby says MPs must keep repeating everything, and it is only when we are bored witless that the phrase will start to get through to the public.
What he said The forecast from the independent Office for Budget Responsibility today reminds us of the economic challenge at home and abroad.
But it also reminds us that job creation and employment remain brighter spots.
What he meant If I use two phrases to describe the same thing, then I can use "brighter spots" in the plural and suddenly the whole sentence is infused with the spirit of spring.
What he said The problems in Cyprus this week are further evidence that the crisis is not over, and the situation remains very worrying… I will be straight with the country: another bout of economic storms in the eurozone would hit Britain's economic fortunes hard again... We are still very exposed to what happens on the continent.
What he meant We hope that things won't go horribly wrong before the election, but if they do we want to be sure that you know it won't be our fault.
What he said We committed at the start of this Parliament to a fiscal mandate that said we would aim to balance the cyclically adjusted current budget over the following rolling five years. I can confirm that the OBR says we are on course to meet our fiscal mandate – and meet it one year early.
What he meant A rolling five-year target keeps moving further away, but this year the Office for Blame Repositioning said it would be met earlier than it said last year and, as no one understands cyclical adjustment, no one can contradict them.
What he said However, the likelihood of meeting the supplementary debt target has deteriorated.
What he meant In other words, the target that cannot be fudged also keeps moving further away, but if I hurry through a list of numbers with decimal points in them then it sounds at least as if I know what I am talking about.
What he said I've also had representations at this Budget for measures that would add £33bn a year extra to borrowing on top of the figures I've announced. It's from people who seem to think that the way to borrow less is to borrow more. That would pose a huge risk to the stability of the British economy, threaten a sharp rise in interest rates and leave the burden of debts to our children and grandchildren.
What he meant The old Gordon Brown "I have received representations" routine, allowing the penny slowly to drop that he is talking about the opposition, and that he means, "Ed Balls wants to eat your children and grandchildren".
What he said Taken together, the measures I will announce today are fiscally neutral overall.
What he meant Tax cuts in one place will be balanced by tax rises or spending cuts elsewhere. In other words, it is all smoke, mirrors and rhetoric.
What he said I am today setting out an updated remit for the Monetary Policy Committee.
What he meant Top secret code for saying Mark Carney, the new Governor, will be allowed to take the inflation target slightly less seriously as long as he doesn't admit it in public.
What he said Thanks to the tough financial control of my Right Honourable Friend the Chief Secretary [Danny Alexander], government departments are forecast to underspend their budgets by more than £11bn this year.
What he meant Not only was the PM tricking people by pretending there was "no magic money tree" in that recent speech, but it has been located by a Lib Dem, one of the very people we always accused of fiscal irresponsibility in the past.
What he said In difficult times with the inevitable trade off between paying people more and saving jobs, we should put jobs first.
What he meant Ed Balls said so too, so with any luck the public sector trade unions will concentrate their anger on him.
What he said And I can also announce that further awards from the LIBOR banking fines have gone to good military causes, with money for Combat Stress to help veterans with mental health issues and funds for Christmas boxes for all our troops on operations this year and next. Those who have paid fines in our financial sector because they demonstrated the very worst values are paying to support those in our armed forces who demonstrate the very best of British values.
What he meant The Gordon Brown Prize for shameless mid-Budget populism.
What he said Today, I am unveiling one of the largest ever packages of tax avoidance and evasion measures presented at a Budget.
What he meant Just as I did in all previous budgets and autumn statements, and as my predecessors did before me.
What he said These guaranteed mortgages will be available to all homeowners, subject to checks on responsible lending. Using the government's balance sheet to back these higher loan-to-value mortgages will dramatically increase their availability. We've worked with some of the biggest mortgage lenders to get this right. And we're offering guarantees sufficient to support £130bn of mortgages. It will be available from the start of 2014 – and run for three years.
What he meant £130bn of government-backed mortgages to push up house prices? What could possible go wrong?
What he said For a Vauxhall Astra or a Ford Focus that's £7 less every time you fill up.
What he meant This Budget is brought to you by ™ General Motors and ™ Ford.
What he said But I'm going to go one step further and I am going to cut beer duty by 1p. We're taking a penny off a pint. The cut will take effect this Sunday night and I expect it to be passed on in full to customers.
What he meant Another typically Brownian device: "Ladies and Gentlemen - I am going to go further..." And another straightforward piece of populism, which helps to explain the PM's U-turn on minimum alcohol pricing. This is a Government on the side of the hard-working low-income drinker who wants to "get on" with the next pint.
What he said There is one final tax change I want to tell the House about... The Employment Allowance will work by taking the first £2,000 off the employer National Insurance bill of every company. It's a tax off jobs. It's worth up to £2,000 to every business in the country.
What he meant The classic Budget surprise: save it for the end and use the funds taken from the magic money tree – in this case future changes to the second state pension that no one ever understood – to make a big, crowd-pleasing announcement.
What he said This is a Budget that doesn't duck our nation's problems. It confronts them head on. It is a Budget for an aspiration nation. It is a Budget for a Britain that wants to be prosperous, solvent and free. Thank you.
What he meant Just as he was sitting down, the Chancellor realised he had forgotten the ritual line with which all statements are supposed to end, so he muttered it through the cheers: "And I commend it to the House."
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