Budget 2014: What George Osborne said... and what he meant
John Rentoul cuts through the euphemisms and jargon to decipher the Chancellor's real meaning
John Rentoul is chief political commentator for The Independent on Sunday, and visiting professor at Queen Mary, University of London, where he teaches contemporary history. Previously he was chief leader writer for The Independent. He has written a biography of Tony Blair, whom he admired more at the end of his time in office than he did at the beginning.
Wednesday 19 March 2014
What he said We set out our plan. And together with the British people, we held our nerve.
What he meant Our plan went horribly wrong, but finally things are getting a bit better, so if I congratulate people on being awfully brave they might think it was their stiff upper lip that got them through the worst.
What he said Six years ago Britain suffered a great recession. We had the biggest bank bailout in the world. We had the biggest deficit since the war. We suffered the deepest recession in modern times. But later this year the OBR expects Britain to reach the point when our economy is finally larger than before it collapsed six years ago.
What he meant We have got back to square one. Rejoice. Anybody got a rabbit?
What he said In 2018-19, [the OBR] are forecasting no deficit at all – instead, at plus 0.2 per cent, a small surplus. But only if we work through the plan. The Government's fiscal mandate is met – and continues to be met a year early.
What he meant This is like one of those diets that makes you eat different flavours of powdered porridge for the rest of your life. The dieter has already met the weight loss target, ahead of time, and will be ahead of target every year, but will continue to succeed only if we "work through the plan".
Read more: The Independent's Budget coverage in full
What he said Our new pound coin will blend the security features of the future with inspiration from our past. In honour of our Queen, the coin will take the shape of one of the first coins she appeared on. A more resilient pound for a more resilient economy.
What he meant People accuse Chancellors of giveaways and baubles. I can't afford any giveaways this year, but I have a bauble in my pocket. If you are not sure about the difference between an absolute surplus and a normal surplus, take comfort from a new coin.
What he said None of these decisions are easy, but they are the right thing to ensure Britain lives within her means. We set out today the details of that welfare cap – and we will seek the support of Parliament for it next week.
What he meant The House of Commons has run out of things to do – we'll get them to have a pointless vote in the hope that Ed Miliband will be stupid enough to oppose a symbolic piece of legislation so we can call him soft on welfare spending.
What he said The distributional analysis published today shows that the Budget decisions, and the decisions across this Parliament, mean the rich are making the biggest contribution to the reduction of the deficit – because we are all in this together. The independent statistics show that under this Government income inequality is at its lowest level for 28 years.
What he meant I'm saying this partly because it is such fun. Labour is so convinced that the gap between rich and poor is growing that the words simply will not compute. Ed's little helpers will be in despair trying to disprove my assertions. They are so sure that we are NOT all in this together because Dave went to Eton and I went to St Paul's that these numbers will scramble their brains. It's my secret election strategy.
What he said We've been reminded again this week of the benefits high speed rail will bring to the north of our country and I'm determined it goes further north faster.
What he meant I am determined to build it at 225mph, and to go far further north than anyone has previously suggested. Inverness. Keep going. Shetland Islands, Faroes, the North Pole is your next station stop. You can't get more northern than that.
What he said Tomorrow we introduce legislation to give new tax and borrowing powers to the Welsh government to fund their infrastructure needs, and they can start now on work to improve the M4 in South Wales.
What he meant The day after we can go back to how Labour-run Wales is a model of how to waste money.
What he said If Britain isn't leading the world in science and technology and engineering, then we are condemning our country to fall behind. So we will establish new centres for doctoral training, for cell therapy and for graphene – a great British discovery that we should break the habit of a lifetime with and commercially develop in Britain.
What he meant Graphene – the strongest substance known to a Chancellor in need of material to upgrade a thin Budget speech and make it look all 21st century and modern. Cell therapy also sounds better than Frankenstein science. And this part of the speech must contain a false opposite: either Britain is leading the world or falling behind.
What he said We will found the Alan Turing Institute to ensure Britain leads the way again in the use of big data and algorithm research. I am determined that our country is going to out-compete, out-smart and out-do the rest of the world.
What he meant And I am determined to out-talk, out-speak and out-vocabularise my way out of a speech in which I have little to say but hope no one will notice if I use words such as algorithm and talk about defined contribution pensions.
What he said I'm introducing compensation worth almost a billion pounds to protect these energy-intensive manufacturers from the rising costs of renewable obligation and the feed-in tariffs.
What he meant Today I have cut the cost of pollution in Britain. Manufacturers who use most energy complain most loudly about carbon taxes designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions and I have listened sympathetically to them and decided to give them £1bn.
What he said Our increases in the personal allowance will have lifted over three million of the lowest paid out of income tax altogether. And I am incredibly proud we have achieved that. Help for hardworking people as part of a long-term economic plan by a Coalition Government and delivered by a Conservative Chancellor.
What he meant Raising the personal allowance is a Conservative policy, not a Lib Dem policy, from a Conservative Government, with very few Lib Dems in it, delivered by a Conservative Chancellor and not the Lib Dem colleagues on my right.
What he said People who have worked hard and saved hard all their lives, and done the right thing, should be trusted with their own finances. That's precisely what we will now do. Trust the people.
What he meant Trust the people … not to understand a word of the wall of pensions technobabble that I shall read out in a voice that implies I know what I'm talking about.
What he said The message from this Budget is: you have earned it; you have saved it; and this government is on your side.
What he meant The message is: feeling old? Worried about low interest rates? This Government will give you complex financial products to make you feel better off.
What he said We're building a resilient economy. This is a Budget for the makers, the doers, and the savers.
What he meant A Budget for duckers and divers, and desperate student politicians who found themselves in government and had to talk their way out of the failure of their plan, claiming it was vindicated by the dead cat bounce in the economy.
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