Conservative Diary

George Osborne

18 Sep 2013 06:51:24

Who is winning the Coalition? Us or the Lib Dems?


By Mark Wallace
Follow Mark on Twitter.

Now that both parties are fighting to take credit for the coalition's achievements, rather than seeking to blame each other for its impact, it seems an opportune moment to ask: who is winning the Coalition? Do the Lib Dems or the Conservatives enjoy more success in Government?

Let's tot it up, match by match, across thirteen key policy areas:

Home Office

With PCCs introduced, an immigration cap in place, the concept of regional immigration limits rejected, spending cuts to the police but crime falling regardless and even the now-famous "Go Home" vans, the Home Office is a round victory for the Conservatives. The Lib Dems will be happy about the scrapping of ID cards, but it's worth remembering that this was Tory policy at the election, too.

Blues 2 - 0 Yellows

Local Government

Both parties described themselves as localist in the run-up to 2010, but the plan the Government have implemented is almost entirely Eric Pickles'.  Spending transparency, guaranteed referenda for council tax increases over 5 per cent and relaxed planning regulations all point to a Conservative win.

Blues 2 - 0 Yellows


It's a little hard to say how the different parties have fared in the Justice department. The failure to fulfil the Tory pledge for automatic jail sentences for carrying a knife illegally and the fact the Human Rights Act still has not been replaced by a British Bill of Rights are certainly points against the Conservatives, but they were respectively scored by Ken Clarke and a Commission set up by the Prime Minister, so count as own goals. Since he took over as Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling has been pushing ahead more productively with cuts to legal aid, reform of the courts system and a new, more accountable prison regime. The Lib Dems have had barely a look-in, but the own goals go on their tally - we can expect a better rematch later in the Parliament.

Blues 3 - 2 Yellows

Constitutional Reform

The Lib Dems had a good sequence of play early on - for a while it looked like they might romp home. They certainly secured the referendum on AV which they had demanded, but then the electorate overwhelmingly rejected the plan. Lords reform briefly came onto the agenda, before being torpedoed by Tory backbench opposition. In revenge, Clegg sank the boundary reform the Conservatives desperately need to iron out structural bias in the election system. Both sides lose out - a no-score draw.

Blues 0 - 0 Yellows


It's fair to say Michael Gove has emerged victorious on almost every measure in Education. The academies scheme has been dramatically extended, Free Schools are springing up and new, more rigorous exams are in place. The flagship Lib Dem policy of the Pupil Premium has been implemented, but their promise to aboilish tuition fees has been entirely reversed.

Blues 5 - 1 Yellows


Both parties supported High Speed 2 in 2010, and despite heavy fire from all sides it remains Government policy. The Lib Dem policy of introducing road pricing has been rejected, and replaced by reductions and freezes in fuel prices, driven by Rob Halfon. Clegg and Cameron both promised that Heathrow would not be expanded, and they've got their way - with Lib Dem support for the policy helping to overwhelm any Tory suggestions it be revoked.

Blues 2 - 1 Yellows 


The decision to hold a Strategic Defence Review rather partially removed this department from the realm of pure party politics early on in the parliament. However, the Lib Dems regularly boast that they have managed to delay any decision to replace Trident until at least 2015, while the Conservatives have successfully slimmed down the MoD's size and balanced its budget for the first time in years. A score draw.

Blues 1 - 1 Yellows


Energy and Environment

Chris Huhne, and later Ed Davey, have dominated these policy fields from DECC until Owen Paterson gave DEFRA more Tory bite in the last year. The Green Deal is in place (and splashing money everywhere), wind farms are still going ahead despite the Tories wishing to implement a moratorium and the Green Investment Bank has got the go-ahead. Shale gas has now been given the green light, but only after lengthy delays thanks to Lib Dem opposition. 

Blues 1 - Yellows 5

Tax and Spend

Both parties agreed on the need for austerity after the Brown years, but we should note that the Lib Dem manifesto proposed £15 billion of spending cuts, delayed until 2011-12. Austerity has been larger than that, and began immediately. While Clegg and Alexander's presence in the Quad has certainly reduced the fiscal tightening somewhat, Government policy looks closer to Osborne's position than theirs.

On tax, it's a different story. The 50p rate is gone, but it is now 45p rather than the 40p many Tories would have preferred. The income tax threshold is rising to £10,000, following a Lib Dem manifesto pledge - though it's not a policy many Conservatives are uncomfortable about. It's fair to say Osborne's enthusiasm for tax cuts (for example on Inheritance Tax) has been sizeably hindered by his coalition partners.

Goals for each side, but level pegging so far.

Blues 2 - Yellows 2

Welfare Reform

Like Eric Pickles, Iain Duncan Smith went into the 2010 election with a coherent plan and a deep personal dedication to his brief. As a result, he's got his way on the bulk of his proposals. The two parties have collaborated to protect the Universal Credit scheme from Treasury attempts to axe it or scale it back. It says a lot that the Lib Dems' main impact on the DWP has been to veto IDS' offers to make even more savings from his budget.

Blues 2 - Yellows 1

Business and Banks

Vince Cable has long touted his Department as the heartland of Lib Dem opposition to Conservative leadership of the coalition. He's certainly managed to get the Government to adopt his industrial strategy, and blocked the Beecroft reforms to workplace regulation. But he has also had to accept the abolition of the Regional Development Agencies and the Conservative-driven cuts to red tape. The decider is the Government's decision to accept the Lib Dem policy to break up the banks.

Blues 2 - Yellows 3


To say the Health and Social Care Act proved controversial is an understatement. Various of the policies within it are drawn from the Conservative 2010 manifesto, although Lib Dem opposition forced the Government into a "listening period" and resulted in several changes to the legislation. 

Blues 2 - Yellows 1


This always seemed likely to be the sticking point of the Coalition. Clegg has prevented Cameron from offering an earlier referendum, and the Conservatives have been forced to use a Private Member's Bill to pursue their policy post-2015. However, the Lib Dems so far have been too afraid of public opinion to vote against the Wharton Bill, resorting to wrecking attempts in the Committees. The In/Out referendum is on the way, but Yellow blocking tactics have left the Blues open to attack by UKIP.

Blues 1 - Yellows 2

Scores so far

Here are the overall scores from the first half of the Parliamentary season. Of 13 matches, there have been 7 Blue victories, 3 Yellow wins and 3 draws. 25 goals for the Conservatives and 19 for the Liberal Democrats leaves the goal difference at +6 for the Blue team.

The contest is only going to become more hotly contested - as can be seen by Nick Clegg's attempt to take the credit for Rob Halfon's ideas today - so we will continue to watch every match and report back.

26 Jul 2013 08:46:50

What type of growth does George Osborne want? The risky hare, or the reliable tortoise?

By Mark Wallace
Follow Mark on Twitter.

Tortoise and the HareAs I wrote yesterday, 0.6% growth is good news, but it must be handled carefully by the Chancellor. It also raises the larger question of what kind of growth the Coalition wants. 

Is any growth, regardless of narrowness of base or sustainability, desirable? Or does George Osborne still seek a rebalancing of the economy by region and by sector - preferring expansion in the North and the Midlands to another South East boom, and favouring new manufacturing jobs over those in financial services?

There will always be a contest in the minds of politicians between tortoise growth, which may be slower but brings wider benefits and longer term stability, and hare growth, which happens swiftly and can be boasted about in the headlines before an election comes around.

We now know that Blair and Brown embodied the hare, and the nation is still paying the price. Once upon a time, Osborne regularly allied himself with the tortoise - but that particular theme has fallen silent of late.

In fact, looking at this week's announcements one would assume that hare growth is back in fashion.

Continue reading "What type of growth does George Osborne want? The risky hare, or the reliable tortoise?" »

25 Jul 2013 11:58:49

0.6% growth is good news - but we should be careful about how we use it politically

By Mark Wallace
Follow Mark on Twitter.

OsborneMore good economic news for the Chancellor, following last week's labour market statistics: the UK economy grew in the most recent quarter by 0.6%.

As we discovered from the false alarm over a double dip, there is reason to be a little wary of such figures. Political and media demand for speedy statistics outstrips the ONS' ability to compile them, so first estimates of quarterly growth like this are never based on the full data - in this instance only 44% of the eventual information was available.

That means it is likely to go up or down a bit in the final reckoning, but it is still good news. That Ed Balls has shifted his attack to the cost of living and the decline of real wages shows that the Osborne's credibility on economic growth has been strengthened.

Conservatives would be wise not to holler too soon about "green shoots" and suchlike, though - the Government's language about healing is carefully chosen in order to avoid two risks. The first is the political risk of appearing celebratory while many still suffer - the economy is still 3.3% smaller than it was at its pre-crisis peak. The second is the economic risk that despite these positive signs a new Eurozone or, worse, BRIC crisis could still strike at economic stability - leaving excessive triumphalism looking rather stupid.

What we should point to instead is the character of the recovery. This is growth across multiple sectors, including construction, manufacturing and services, which is a sharp contrast to the previous trend for the collapse in construction to drag down the overall numbers.

If all continues to go well, over the next two years the Government will have built up an economic story to shout about in time for the election. For now, the good news blunts any attempts by Labour to go on a "Plan B" offensive - and that is welcome in itself.

26 Jun 2013 15:43:47

Dr George Osborne, a physician who intends to cure us by making extra cuts

By Andrew Gimson AndrewGBigBensketch
Follow Andrew on Twitter

George Osborne threatened us with a return to intensive care. His manner as he delivered his statement was that of a senior doctor who cannot bear to have his clinical judgement questioned. People cannot help recalling that when Dr Osborne began operating on the British economy, he predicted a much more rapid recovery than has actually taken place.

But Dr Osborne pre-empted criticism by informing us in a harsh tone that but for him we would be dead, or at least at death's door: "If we abandon our deficit plan Britain would be back in intensive care." We are, he tells us, so weak that we have no choice but to go on submitting to the course of treatment he has prescribed. A few more cuts, inflicted by Dr Osborne with his usual finesse, and we shall feel fit as a fiddle.

The speech was rich in diversionary tactics, perhaps designed to distract us from the grimness of the treatment we must go on enduring. Even before he spoke, Dr Osborne diverted us with the horrifying claim that while working on his statement, he had subsisted on burgers and coke. To substantiate this outlandish story, he released a photograph of himself with these foods on his desk.

Continue reading "Dr George Osborne, a physician who intends to cure us by making extra cuts " »