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Osborne promises to help people who want to own a home, start a business, go out to work, enjoy retirement... but can he deliver?

By Tim Montgomerie
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Ed Balls and George Osborne were just getting going at the end of this morning's Andrew Marr show when Jeremy Vine interrupted to end the programme with some Irish music for St Patrick's Day. Does anyone watch Marr for music rather than news and politics?

Resonating with yesterday's 'Aspiration Nation' message from the Prime Minister George Osborne signalled a determination to help lots of want-to-get-on groups in his interview on the Andrew Marr programme. He promised to help...

  • people who want to own their own home (perhaps The Sun is correct that he is planning a £10 billion boost for the housebuilding sector)...
  • people who want to start a business (a new Tory credit card-sized communication notes that 250,000 new small enterprises have been established in the last three years)...
  • mothers who want to go out to work (without announcing specifics he said "I am going to help people with child care [because] I am on the side of working mothers")...
  • people who want to enjoy retirement (in another sign that Mr Osborne takes the grey vote very seriously indeed he announced that the Coalition will bring forward introduction of the long-term care cap to April 2016 and at a level of £72,000, not £75,000 --- the Single Tier Pension will also be introduced early).

I can't believe he will be able to afford much help for any of those groups given the state of the public finances but as Stephen Pollard Tweeted, he's a politician who likes to surprise.

What there won't be will be any dramatic changes of overall direction. Mr Osborne poured cold water on Labour and Tory backbench calls for big tax cuts or more borrowing to increase capital spending by telling Jeremy Vine that there was not a "miracle cure" for growth. He also defended the NHS ringfence (which is supported by 67% of voters*) and, more controversially, the ringfence for overseas aid (which, in contrast, 68% want cut*). The Chancellor argued that helping the poor overseas was both a moral commitment and good foreign policy.

Mr Osborne did make one new announcement. Following yesterday's raid on depositors who had lodged money with Cyprus' bailed-out banks, the Chancellor promised that military and other personnel serving at British bases on the island would be compensated from the "deposit tax". Good.

The Chancellor was also staunch in his defence of press freedom. "People fought and literally died to give us a free press," he said and continued by arguing that "press regulation that divides the parties isn't press regulation that is going to last".

* Numbers taken from today's YouGov poll for the Sunday Times (PDF).


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