Editorial: Mr Osborne draws the battle lines over welfare


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

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Data Migration Lead

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Experienced Lead SAP Data Manager Requir...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Graduate Recruitment Resourcers - Banking Technologies

£18000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Huxley Associates are looking...

Implementation Engineer

£150 - £200 per day: Orgtel: Implementation Engineer Hampshire / London (Gre...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise  

The UK economy may be back on track, but ordinary people are still being left behind

James Moore
The Independent journalist James Moore pictured outside Mile End underground station in east London  

The true cost of being disabled goes far beyond just the physical

James Moore
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform