From a man who outed himself at the weekend as a gangsta-rap fan, George Osborne’s refrain – as it’s fair to call it, since he repeated it eight times – was pretty uncatchy: “We are the builders”. But then it was craftily pinched from a 1945 Aneurin Bevan speech. It may, therefore, have been a part of his bold exhortation to “extend the hand” to those who, “let’s be frank”, still voted Labour in May because they had not yet spotted that it’s the Conservatives who are on the side of “millions of working people”.
But this chimed with the Chancellor’s determination to broaden his appeal while appearing less, well, android than in the past, with daring touches such as a dark-green tie. The jokes were few and, in the case of one on Corbynomics – “It’s not monetarism, it’s magic money-tree-ism” – might have been better left on the cutting-room floor. But lingering doubts about ambitions to be party leader were removed by the fulsomeness with which he praised the present one: “My friend, our Prime Minister, David Cameron.” This gave him the necessary clearance to talk about himself.
Declaring that “I’m here to make changes that last [and] … slay dragons that stand in Britain’s way” (surely not a subliminal St George reference?) he explained how, since growing up believing “that if it wasn’t happening in London then it wasn’t happening at all”, he had been awakened by representing Tatton to there “being so much more in this country”. Sub-text: “Yes, I used to hang out in the Smoke with other posh boys and girls digging N***** Wit Attitudes but now I know lots of ordinary Northern folk.” Even if in another passage he accurately described his constituency “as full of pretty villages and market towns in the flat and lush Cheshire plain” – hardly Satanic mills central.
And his real news – letting local authorities keep business rates – should go down well with the Conservative councillors with a key role in choosing the future leader, at least until they realise that this will be matched for now by further cuts in the government grant. They will have to overcome plenty of Nimbyism to provide houses for all those employed by the new businesses they are supposed to attract.
There was lots of “this hurts me as much as it hurts you” in his harping on the “difficult decisions” he had to take – such as cutting “ever-higher welfare and [for those ‘millions of working people’] tax-credit bills the country can’t afford”.
Judiciously, he didn’t give a fuller version of that Bevan quote: “We have been the sufferers and now we are the builders.” That really would have been a steal too far.Reuse content