Conservative Party conference: Tories are true 'One Nation' party, says George Osborne


Chancellor George Osborne has sought to seize back the 'One Nation' slogan for the Conservatives, after Labour leader Ed Miliband used it to make an audacious grab for the political centre ground.

Conservatives are the true party of "one nation working together", said the Chancellor, as he announced plans to cut a further £10 billion from welfare by 2016-17, on top of the £18 billion in benefit reductions already being implemented.

Mr Osborne's announcement at the Conservative conference in Birmingham ran into immediate resistance from the Tories' Liberal Democrat coalition partners who said that no detailed agreements have been reached and that the Chancellor is doing no more than set out the Tory negotiating position.

In his keynote speech to conference, Mr Osborne admitted that the recovery from recession is "taking longer than we hoped, because the damage was greater than we feared".

But he insisted: "We will finish the job we have started."

Mr Osborne and Prime Minister David Cameron have made clear this week that they plan to increase demands on the rich in order to help pay down the state deficit but ruled out the Liberal Democrats' favoured mansion tax on expensive properties.

In his speech, the Chancellor said: "Just as we should never balance the budget on the backs of the poor, so it's an economic delusion to think you can balance it only on the wallets of the rich.

"Yes, we inherited a tax system where some in the City were paying lower tax rates than their cleaners. That was wrong and we were right to change it. But in the same way, it is wrong that it's possible for someone to be better off on benefits than they would be in work."

Conservatives will stand up for those who put in an effort and expect to get a fair reward, such as corner-shop owners who stay open late into the night, teachers who take after-school clubs, commuters who leave for work before their children get up and pensioners who save for their retirement.

Denouncing Mr Miliband's claim of Disraeli's "one nation" mantle as "risible", Mr Osborne said: "They are all part of one nation: one nation working together to get on. That is the nation I represent. Those are the people who I will serve as Chancellor.

"Where is the fairness, we ask, for the shift worker, leaving home in the dark hours of the early morning, who looks up at the closed blinds of their next-door neighbour sleeping off a life on benefits?

"We speak for that worker. We speak for all those who want to work hard and get on. This is the mission of the modern Conservative party."

Meanwhile, in a joint article with Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, Mr Osborne indicated that welfare cuts could come in the form of scrapping housing benefit for under-25s or restricting the payment of benefits for additional children.

But Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told the BBC: "Nothing in detail has been agreed on cuts to welfare. The Conservatives are, of course, perfectly entitled to set out their stall about what we do as a country as we have to tighten our belts further, as we indeed were at our party conference.

"My attitude has always been very simple, very straightforward, which is that as we have to make more savings as a country, as we do, you must start at the (top) and work your way down.

"Nothing has been agreed within government on the detail of further savings. These are the kind of things we will thrash out within government in the months ahead.

"I've always believed it is just wrong that a foreign oligarch living in a mansion worth £4 million pays the same council tax as someone living in a four-bedroom family home. That seems to be wrong, I will continue to argue for a fairer tax system. That's one of the main things the Liberal Democrats have provided and contributed to in government is a fairer approach to taxes.

"You need to have a combination, as the Chancellor has quite rightly said, a combination of asking the people at the top to make a greater contribution and also a contribution from public spending cuts, but where they fall and exactly how you strike the bala

Mr Osborne said the Conservatives are the party of "low taxes for the many" not "no taxes for the few" as he vowed to continue the crackdown on tax avoiders.

The Chancellor insisted the problem is not how much is collected but how much the Government is spending as he confirmed that an extra £10 billion of welfare savings will be made by the first full year of the next Parliament.

Mr Osborne said the Government will not shirk tackling welfare at a time when other budgets are being squeezed just because it is politically difficult.

That includes reforming a system which allows young people who have never had a job to be given homes while their working counterparts are forced to live with their parents, he said.

"Iain Duncan Smith and I are committed to finding these savings while delivering the most radical reform of our welfare system for generations with a Universal Credit so work always pays because it's not just about the money - it comes back to fairness and enterprise, he said.

"For how can we justify the incomes of those out of work rising faster than the incomes of those in work?

"How can we justify giving flats to young people who have never worked, when working people twice their age are still living with their parents because they can't afford their first home?

"How can we justify a system where people in work have to consider the full financial costs of having another child, whilst those who are out of work don't?

"And here's the broader point - how could a country that wants to compete in the world economy possibly explain that it's cutting budgets on things like schools and science because it couldn't summon the political will to control welfare?

"For in this country we face something even greater than recovery from recession and the problems of the past - we face the shock of the future."