George Osborne's speech to the Conservative Party Conference was refreshingly frank in some aspects.
He came clean that the next Conservative government would be looking to make further savings in public expenditure of 25 billion pounds.
George even identified where most of the savings would come from, with further cuts in welfare spending, a freeze on working age benefits excluding pensions, disability, maternity and paternity payments bearing the brunt of the new drive. He also said young people would benefit from further employment and training opportunities but would pay for them with a loss of their Jobs Seekers Allowance and Housing Benefit.
To great applause the Chancellor said tax rises would be avoided if at all possible and abolished with immediate effect the 55% pensions tax that was trailed in the Sunday newspapers (arguably a disgraceful ‘death tax’ that should have been tackled years ago).
On some areas it descended into conference crowd-pleasing but nonetheless ultimately vague statements. There was further talk of creating a new 'Northern Powerhouse' but very little detail to say how this would be done, what it would entail and how much it would cost and of course, where the money would come from. The signal was given for - new investment in our roads and rail infrastructure, but again little detail.
Although he may not have wished to steal the Prime Minister’s thunder Osborne nearly ‘did a Miliband’ regarding the deficit. There was nothing on his commitment in 2010 to ‘wipe out’ the deficit by 2015 and only a brief acknowledgement that the deficit had been reduced by almost a half in that time.
So, this may have been a warm up for the Autumn Statement and pre-election budget but will any of this be a vote winner?
If social media is anything to go by, it’s a difficult message to say you will start cutting welfare, public expenditure and freezing benefits for working people and then tell them that foreign aid will be increased and funding to economic superpowers to India and China will continue. The public simply does not get the Conservatives policy in this area.
On the pensions front, it is Ok but perhaps seen as a predictable sweetener to the tory core vote they’re desperate to stay blue. As for spending cuts, people will really feel it if they indicate more cuts to local government; and it’s likely to stop functioning in any meaningful way.
Given world affairs the intelligence services and MoD need an increase in their budgets, as do those charged with maintaining our borders on a shoestring. With a commitment to fund additional devolution and probable ring fencing of education and health it is difficult to see where the savings will come from.
But the aim of George Osborne's pitch, which we will hear a lot more of, was clear. “We are on the road to recovery, don't let Labour wreck it. The economy is still fragile and there is still much to do, stick with us and we will complete the job”… or words to that effect.
If it’s going to be a vote winner then the public needs to decide one thing. ‘Was the 2008 financial meltdown really Labour's fault due to economic incompetent making it too risky to put them back in charge?
I have to say that although it was a global crisis, there is evidence that they were. Labour’s astronomical mismanagement of the defence procurement budget, IT programs and the terms of some of the Private Finance Initiatives in our schools and hospitals were a national scandal but was Labour’s record really that bad prior to 2008 if people can look that far back?
If the public decide to go with Labour on the economy, both the Labour and Conservative parties may find it’s more than ‘the economy stupid’ along traditional lines – it’s immigration and membership of the EU that really matter. Certainly with UKIP on the rise these two issues may just creep into a national election like never before. Let’s see.
*image provided by M. Holland*