Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Hobson’s choice – or is it Osborne’s?


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It’s just possible that George Osborne’s peroration “Choose Jobs. Choose Enterprise. Choose Security. Choose Prosperity… Choose David Cameron… Choose the future” was a conscious, if  eccentric, homage to No-voting Scotland.

But it’s unlikely given that the dark sequence from Trainspotting which it so eerily echoed winds up with “Choose your future… But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose something else… And the reasons? Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?”

Either way, the audience loved it. Some, being respectable lifelong Tories, may not be Irvine Welsh buffs. Those that were may have thought Osborne was implicitly standing up for all those bourgeois things the Trainspotting character, Renton rejected: “Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career… Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines” and so on. Which would help to explain why the speech went down so well.

True, Osborne had a terrific build-up, not least from his warm-up act (Lord) Digby Jones, the former Gordon Brown minister, who explained, “I don’t do party politics.” A timely reminder for those of us who naively thought introducing a Conservative Chancellor as a “man with a plan” who “did what was right for our country” at the last Tory conference before – in Osborne’s words –“one of the most important general elections in a generation” was a tiny bit party political.

Inevitably, Osborne attacked Ed Miliband for “making a pitch for office that was so forgettable he forgot it himself”. He did not make the mistake of forgetting the deficit. He revelled in repeatedly mentioning it. So far from standing around “marvelling at what we have already done,” (of which he had nevertheless given a fairly full account) he was “humbled by how much more we have to do… our national debt is dangerously high”.

Suddenly you saw the true Osborne brilliance. If he had actually reduced the deficit as fast as he originally promised, people might actually be thinking of voting Labour!

Instead, another Tory  term was needed provide the “big answers” to the “big questions” and “finish the job.” Like the draconian two-year freeze on benefits for every one of working age, whether they were, to use the current Tory phrase of choice, “hardworking taxpayers” or not. Or the ending of the “death tax” on passing down pension pots to your children (even though Thatcher guru Friedrich Hayek, no less, thought inheritance taxes were a good idea).

Or building a new airport runway after 40 years of the country “failing to take a decision.” Hang on Chancellor, didn’t your government kick this into touch until after the election?  But then maybe that’s what he means by “choosing the future”.