When he promised a “no gimmicks” budget, George Osborne obviously forgot the ones at Ed Miliband’s expense. But he was frank about them today.
Since Agincourt saw “a strong leader ”defeating “an ill-judged alliance between the champion of a united Europe and a renegade force of Scottish nationalists” (get it?) “it is well worth spending £1m to celebrate” its 600th anniversary.
Not to mention the review of “deeds of variation” to avoid inheritance tax – which the Labour leader’s family has been accused of doing. All those civil servants tied up to embarrass Mr Miliband!
At times the Chancellor got carried away. The lower booze duties would mean “more pubs saved, jobs created, families supported”. Not so much “father, dear father, come home with me now” as “the family that drinks together stays together”. As a novelist, Frances Osborne may not read the tabloids. When her husband bid for votes from the Ukip demographic by saying reduced Severn Crossing tolls would be good for white-van man, he added for Harriet Harman’s “benefit” that “it will apply to pink vans too”. Watching from the gallery, Ms Osborne looked bemused. Only when the reference to Ms Harman’s feminist campaigning vehicle was seemingly explained to her did she manage a smile, one of her very few – whether from nervousness for her man or because she rightly thought the jokes were naff.
Pledging extra broadband investment, Mr Osborne said someone with two kitchens, “will be able to control both fridges from the same mobile phone”. But David Cameron had already done the Miliband “two kitchens” joke three times, at least once better. “I feel sorry for the Leader of the Opposition literally not knowing where his next meal is coming from.” Goaded or not, Mr Miliband turned out his best post-Budget performance so far. OK, “even Dick Turpin had the decency to wear a mask when he robbed people” wasn’t exactly Bob Hope territory. But he pointed out several things Mr Osborne hadn’t mentioned – from “extreme cuts” coming down the track, to hedge-fund taxes the Chancellor couldn’t levy because “they bankroll the Tory party”.
In a puzzling trope, the Chancellor announced: “We choose the future... we choose... economic security... responsibility.” Presumably he had carefully deliberated before deciding not to “choose” the past, economic insecurity, irresponsibility etc. What a relief! Britain, he said finally, is “the comeback country” – a subliminal reference to being the “comeback kid” after his disastrous 2012 budget. So the politics weren’t all about Mr Miliband. They were about Mr Osborne, too.