Toasts to Osborne in Tunbridge Wells: but what about the rest?
Comfortably-off savers and pensioners get a Budget boost – and a reason (perhaps) to vote Tory not Ukip
GEORGE OSBORNE targeted middle-class, middle-earning savers and pensioners in today's Budget – sending a clear message to comfortably-off older voters tempted by Ukip that it is the Tory party that will look after them. He even rewarded them with 1p off a pint and a freeze on the duty for Scotch whisky.
So, there'll be toasts to George in the saloon bars of Tunbridge Wells tonight – but does anyone else have anything to smile about?
For the worse-off, especially those on benefits, the future looks grim. UK spending on welfare is to be capped at £119.5 billion for 2015-2016, and it will require a vote in Parliament to relax it. The basic state pension and some unemployment benefits are excluded.
With much of the Budget content leaked ahead of time (the new £1 coin etc), the big rabbit Osborne had to pull out of his hat was on savings.
He is giving pensioners the chance to invest into higher-earning government bonds and radically abolishing all restraints governing how they spend their pension pots. For middle and high earners still working and with money to spare, he lifted the cap on ISAs to £15,000 a year and loosened the cash/shares rules.
In response, Ukip leader Nigel Farage was forced to admit (regarding the ISA changes): "Even Governments get things right sometimes."
While Nick Robinson, the BBC's political correspondent, noted: "The more you look at these figures, the more it looks like a heat-seeking missile aimed at Nigel Farage."
For all his flourishes, Osborne failed to impress the Westminster chattering classes. Faisal Islam of Channel 4 News tweeted: "Ah yes, less a white rabbit, more a grey hare... "
The Daily Mail's deputy political editor Tim Shipman said: "I'm sure this is all very important, but it's not exactly 5p off income tax in the earthquake stakes."
The big Budget story for the rest of us was buried in Treasury figures released while the Chancellor was still on his feet that suggest that most workers will actually be worse off. Page 107 of the so-called Red Book shows that wage rises will not exceed the retail price index in any year to 2019.
That plays into the class war rhetoric that was unleashed by Ed Miliband once Osborne had sat down. The Labour leader repeated his core message to the voters: working people are worse off under the Tories because of the higher prices for staples like energy.
In his best soundbite, Miliband said: "Under this Chancellor, it’s an economy of the privileged, by the privileged, for the privileged."
Tory commentator James Forsyth of The Spectator tweeted: "Quite remarkable how much class-based rhetoric there is in Miliband’s Budget response - New Labour really is dead."
But Miliband may be having a bigger impact on the voters than Forsyth and his friends realise. He challenged Cameron to nod if he could rule out cutting taxes for millionaires in the next Parliament from 45p in the pound to 40p. No nod. Just grins from Cameron and Osborne.
"There you have it!" shouted Miliband.
The Labour leader also embarrassed Education Secretary Michael Gove, who recently questioned the number of Old Etonians in the Cabinet. He pointed out that Gove was hiding by the Speaker's chair - "He's on the naughty step!" shouted Miliband. It was all rehearsed, but it worked.
As the Mole forecast earlier this week, Osborne's problem was that he has no large sums to give away. He confirmed that cuts in public spending will continue into the next Parliament if the Tories get back in May 2015. He flourished encouraging growth figures, but made it clear that he was not going to "squander the gains" of the cuts made so far by having a pre-election giveaway Budget.
Normally it takes a few days for the gloss to come off a Budget. This time, there is no gloss to start with, unless you are one of those happy pensioners.
The best Osborne could offer was pretty stern stuff: "The economy is beginning to recover and recovering faster than forecast... but the job is far from done. Our country still borrows to much, we still don't invest enough, export enough or save enough."
So, the 2015 Tory election message, based on this Budget, will be: "Recovery is working - don't let Labour wreck it again."
But it's a hell of a gamble: for the majority, the message is just more austerity. And the boost for pensioners will fuel the criticism from Tory thinkers such as David 'Two Brains' Willetts - author of The Pinch - How the Babyboomers took their children's future - that they've had it too good for too long.
A backlash from hard-up young voters, desperate to get a foot on the property ladder, could well take Ed Miliband to Downing Street. ·