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George Osborne’s “man of the people” speech

By Peter Hoskin
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First, George Osborne joined Twitter. Then there was his pub-ready Budget. Then there were tweets about football. And now, today, there’s a speech on jobs and welfare, delivered to the staff of a Morrisons depot in Kent. Not only is the Submarine Chancellor becoming more visible, but he’s also becoming less remote. Mr Osborne may never be The People’s Chancellor, but it seems as though there’s at least some effort in that direction.

This impression certainly carried into the text of the speech. There was a lot of direct talk to the audience – “people like you” and “my kids and your kids”, etc. – and most of it centred around the fairness of the tax and benefit system. Referring to the reforms that came in yesterday, he said:

This month, 9 out of 10 working households* will be better off as a result of the changes we are making.

This month we will make work pay…

…The benefit system is broken; it penalises those who try to do the right thing; and the British people badly want it fixed.

We agree – and those who don't are on the wrong side of the British public.”

And he continued:

What this Government is trying to do is to put things right.

We’re trying to make the system fair on people like you, who get up, go to work, and expect your taxes to be spent wisely.

And we’re trying to restore hope in those communities who have been let down by generations of politicians by getting them back into work.

So our reforms have one simple principle at their heart – making sure people are better off in work than on benefits.”

Now, it should be stressed that none of these arguments are particularly new: doing right by those who go out to work every morning, for instance, was a favourite theme of Mr Osborne’s even before he became Chancellor. But they now have a greater force and clarity to them, which many attribute to the presence of Lynton Crosby on Downing Street. And, like I say, Mr Osborne seems to be more heavily involved in selling them.

But there’s one particular fact that threatens to undermine Mr Osborne’s rhetoric – and it’s one that is raised by the Financial Times (£) and by Ian Birrell today, and which I’ve mentioned plenty of times before. The persistence of universal benefits and pensioner perks doesn’t exactly speak to the idea of taxes being “spent wisely”, particularly at a time of fiscal restraint.

*There’s some confusion about the figures that were released in the speech. See here.


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