Simon Carr: Osborne switches between Taxman and Axeman with supernatural skill

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The Independent Online

Same old Tories? So said Harriet Harman, but Desmond Swayne was actually wearing a morning suit. That's the same old Tories from 1856. I'd got my best frock on for the Budget but Desmond was wearing a tailcoat with a gold chain across his waistcoat hung with the skulls of tiny vulnerables. James Gray, also in morning dress, had a yellow waistcoat made from the skins of sweatshop hands. George Osborne came in looking as pale as a non-drinking Dracula. The blood of workers would surely bring some colour to his cheeks.

What a growth curve he's travelled. He used to be Squeaky George with a voice like Alan B'stard's bitch; now he is a Lord of the Treasury and strategic genius of the Conservative Party. Two years ago he chose the deficit as the central government fact and was derided for it. Isolated. Idiotic. Eccentric.

There were two good laughs, high by Budget day standards. The first followed his remark that we were set to "miss the golden rule of the last government by £485bn". Maybe you had to be there. The second followed on from a declaration that we would not be joining the euro this parliament so the Euro Preparation Unit was to be disbanded. It wasn't Les Dawson, but no worse for that.

The Labour Opposition hung there in suspended animation. Osborne ran all round them with his proposition. Here it is: low interest rates caused by aggressive deficit reduction will sustain a job-creating recovery led by the private sector. It is perfectly possible to believe it. It was certainly good enough to depress Labour. They sat on their chuffs hardly able to muster the indigestion to barrack.

His anecdotal examples left them voiceless. Some families were getting £104,000 in housing benefit, he told us, paid for by the full tax take of 16 people on median incomes. Who was going to defend that?

There were 150,000 families earning more than £50,000 who were getting child benefit, and families earning up to £80,000 were eligible. Labour couldn't heckle their way through that. Three times, Osborne took a long sip of water and three times there was a defeated silence on the Opposition benches.

Amazing, as they'd been told that there was going to be an 80-20 split between the Axeman and the Taxman. And yet the only moment they really got hold was the VAT rise. "Shame! Shame!" David Lammy led the shouting and pointing. At least there's something he can do well. The Tories were lowing the same thing in their great herd-like way. "Shame! Shame!" Everyone can play the shame game, but no one can win. George won, or won enough. Poor old Harriet did what she could in reply, but it was devilish noisy in there with a confident Coalition mooing to the rafters.

She agreed more than once that the deficit had to be reduced but only raised chants of "How? How?" Or maybe it was "Howe! Howe!" Geoffrey Howe's famous first Budget did a lot of cutting, and led to a long run of prosperity. Mind you, Howe's cuts made the government so unpopular, it had to declare war on a South American dictatorship to see the cuts through.

Tristan da Cunha better behave itself, that's all.

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