Editorial: Mr Osborne draws the battle lines over welfare

Share

The Chancellor most certainly came out fighting. Within 10 minutes of beginning his speech to the Conservative Party conference yesterday, George Osborne had represented his Government's embattled fiscal strategy as a binding promise to the electorate, reiterated his oft-derided claim that "we are all in it together", and reprised his defence of the controversial decision to axe the 50p tax rate.

The headline message was clear: like Mrs Thatcher, Mr Osborne's Treasury is "not for turning". But his oratory on fairness and aspiration – taken together with the obligatory swipe at the "blissful irrelevance of opposition" – were also a well-received tilt at a Labour Party buoyed by last week's barnstorming conference speech from Ed Miliband.

If the Chancellor was overtly taking the fight to the Opposition, however, hardly less explicit was his drawing of the battle lines with his Liberal Democrat coalition partners.

Of the £16bn of further cuts needed in this parliament, £10bn is to come from the welfare budget. Inflationary benefits rises, housing benefit for young people leaving home with no job, and unquestioned state support for ever-larger families are all on the table, the Chancellor hinted. Such an undertaking will prove popular with those convinced by Mr Osborne's vivid portrayals of the industrious leaving for work each morning while their neighbours "sleep off a life on benefits". It is a compelling image, but one that is too partisan and too simplistic to sit comfortably alongside Liberal Democrat Treasury minister Danny Alexander's own conference pledge not to allow "the books to be balanced in a way that hits the poorest hardest".

More combative still, Mr Osborne also categorically ruled out the "mansion tax" that has become a totemic Liberal Democrat policy – skewering it as a "home tax" that would be anathema to "the party of home-ownership".

Nor did he offer any concessions in return. There were some general noises about those with the most contributing the most, and a lukewarm avowal that, "if" there are ways to raise revenues from the well-off without damaging the economy, then the Government will look for them. Even allowing for the fact that the Chancellor was addressing the Tory faithful, the statement was strikingly unequivocal.

A party conference is no place for detailed policy announcements and, as befits his audience, Mr Osborne talked more politics than practicalities. There was, though, the welcome commitment of £1bn to scientific research. And there was also the launch of a scheme under which smaller companies might offer new staff an equity stake in return for the surrender of unfair dismissal rights, with a waiver of capital gains tax to sweeten the deal.

Here, at least, there is Coalition agreement. But the Chancellor's choosing to announce the proposal – and to couch it in terms of the controversial Beecroft reforms largely resisted by the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary – speaks volumes. With the Tory leadership under fire over its supposed capitulation to the Liberal Democrats, the resurrection of Beecroft at the conference looks as much like an attempt to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat as an effort to push unpopular reforms through the back door.

Coalition has such horse-trading at its very heart, of course. But, for all the carping from the Tory right, the Liberal Democrats have – painfully – lost more than they have won. If yesterday was the Chancellor's opening position on the £10bn more to come from welfare, the biggest battle of all is still to come.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

There is far too much sexism in the UK - but a point scoring system against other countries won't help to tackle it

Victoria Richards
 

Upmarket and downmarket – why the modern consumer loves a bit of both

Sean O'Grady
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal