WDP comment: Chancellor George Osborne sugars the pill with 2013 Budget
It was, said the Chancellor, a Budget for “our aspirational nation”. It certainly turned out to be a Budget for his own aspiration to remain in the job that, after last year’s “omni-shambles” of a financial statement – followed by the downgrading of the United Kingdom’s triple A financial status – looked to be in question.
As he sat down yesterday, that question had been largely answered. Mr Osborne, never a strong performer in the House of Commons, may have coughed and croaked his way through parts of his speech.
But a penny off a pint of beer, the fuel duty frozen, a £10,000 personal income tax allowance and significant help for home-buyers and small businesses will be enough – given the still parlous state of the economy – to ensure Mr Osborne gets more bouquets than brickbats in the days ahead.
Despite Labour’s claims to the contrary, we suspect the vast majority of people here in the West Country – where paying your way and living within your means really matters – still accept that a protracted period of austerity in order to bring down the borrowing is a priority. That’s why Mr Osborne and his boss David Cameron’s refusal to veer off course has not really gained much purchase. And within the very tight constraints of sticking to “the plan” Mr Osborne did well to produce a modest collection of morsels that will satisfy significant sections of the population, from beery pub goers – or responsible drinkers, as Mr Osborne preferred to call them – to the construction industry which will hope that underwriting mortgages with the Government’s balance sheet and extending 20 per cent loans, interest-free for five years, to new home purchasers moving up the ladder finally gives their industry a kick start.
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Ed Miliband, in his response to the Chancellor, had to rely on chucking insults and taunting Mr Osborne and Mr Cameron for being posh and well off. But he could hardly complain at a cut in the price of the working man’s pint – though a cut in the price of cider would have helped in the rural West Country.
The economy is stagnating, prices are going up, wages are staying put and for many people the prospects are not rosy. But for those in work – and more of us are – anything to sugar the pill of another couple of years hunkered down waiting for the upturn is to be welcomed. That’s what Mr Osborne gave us yesterday. He can’t magic a recovery and most people accept that. He can avoid making things worse and, fingers crossed, he seems to have succeeded.