Budget 2015 – analysis: Will Osborne's giveaways boost the Tories' election prospects?

The Chancellor hopes his measures will entice floating voters

Oliver Wright
Wednesday 18 March 2015 16:04
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The Chancellor announced plans to raise the tax free allowance to £11,000
The Chancellor announced plans to raise the tax free allowance to £11,000

There were a few small rabbits, some very bad jokes and at least one major policy u-turn.

But the big question is: Will George Osborne’s last Budget before the election do anything to improve the Conservatives’ election prospects in May?

There were certainly a few give-aways to entice floating voters. There most eye-catching of these was probably Mr Osborne’s plan to give first time buyers £50 for every £200 they save for a deposit up to £12,000.

The Chancellor also announced plans to raise the tax free allowance to £11,000 and, for the first time in years, raise the level at which tax is paid at 40 per cent above inflation. Beer duty is cut by a penny while petrol duty is frozen again.

These are retail polices at their most explicit that Mr Osborne hopes will resonate on the doorstep.

He also used his speech to try and see off a deeply damaging charge from Labour that Tory spending plans, if they won in May, would reduce public spending back to levels not seen since the 1930s.

This was implied in his spending forecasts announced just three months ago in the autumn statement.

Yesterday Mr Osborne signalled full retreat. He announced an ease on public spending cuts towards the end of the decade – a change which, the Office of Budget Responsibility said, would result in the biggest increase in real spending for a decade in 2019-20.

Will any of this make much difference come May? Certainly the budget plays into the Tory’s central narrative that they are the only party with, as they endlessly describe it, a “long term economic plan”.

But it was telling that Mr Osborne failed to mention the NHS once in his almost hour long speech. That is what Labour and Ed Miliband will be campaigning on – and Mr Osborne did nothing to neutralise this.

Most voters trust the Tories more than Labour to run the economy and the budget may help to reinforce this perception.

But they trust Labour more than the Conservatives on schools, hospitals and looking after the most vulnerable in society. The budget won’t help shift perceptions much in that regard.

This budget has framed the election debate – but not significantly altered it.

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