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Fourteen out of twenty for Osborne's speech

I've now had a little more time to think about the Osborne speech and here's my verdict:

Five out of five for getting ahead of Labour (again): Yet again the Tories are ahead of Labour in spelling out the kind of measures that will be necessary to cure the deficit. On the need for cuts, standing against the VAT cut and now in starting to spell out the medicine the Tories are leaving Labour in the slow lane. The ground for today was cleverly prepared with the cuts in ministers' pay and in the number of MPs - all substantiating the "we're all in this together message".

Five out of five for standing true to compassionate conservatism: At a CSJ fringe meeting yesterday Kate Green of the Child Poverty Action Group said a test of the Tory commitment to the poor would be whether George Osborne protected low income public sector workers. He passed that test with a commitment to exempt those earning less than £18K from a one year pay freeze. Also notable on the compassion stakes were the re-commitments to relink the basic state pension with earnings and to protect the international development budget. When these measures are linked with existing Tory commitments to the poor and low skilled (I think of yesterday's announcement on technical colleges, for example, and the existing pledge to pay a pupil premium for inner city kids) you can start to believe that compassionate conservatism is serious. It is.

Two out of five for spelling out what is going to be necessary: Today's measures are a start but they are only about a fraction of what is going to be necessary to bring the deficit under control. The rhetoric on the deficit is strong. We are told by George Osborne - rightly - that it is of historic proportions. Have we been given a clear list of how the deficit will be closed? Not at all. George Osborne doesn't need to yet. There is plenty of time for more to be said but we should be under no illusions that much more pain will have to be endured to correct this problem. I fear they are planning tax rises. I can't see how they can avoid them if the leadership keeps to its commitment on NHS spending (which it will).

Two out of five for a growth agenda: There was rhetoric on better times ahead but no great economic vision. No supply side revolution. The moralistic defence of the 50p tax rise worried me. I'd have preferred something more pragmatic. If it doesn't raise much money we should be prepared to junk it quickly.

Tim Montgomerie


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