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

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
 

If I were Prime Minister: I would create a government that actually reflects its people

Kaliya Franklin
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower