OSBORNE SHOOTS LABOUR’S FOXES
A roller coaster takes you up as well as down. Critics of George Osborne’s budget have focused on the steep level of public spending cuts until 2018 followed by a positive spending forecast for 2019. To me it seems the Chancellor has plotted a route for the Tories to be in government until 2025.
The budget will probably convince enough people that this government has done enough to turn the economy around to make the Tories the largest party on May 7th.
If the Conservatives are able to deliver their economic plan in the next parliament then by the time of the next election, they will be in a position to put the pain of cuts behind them and seek a full mandate on the back of positive public spending.
A lot can go wrong and the Chancellor is refusing to explain where the 2016-18 cuts of £12bn will fall. There is also the small matter of what damage will be done to the economy by the uncertainty over our membership of the European Union. But broadly this was a confident display by George Osborne who has put Labour on the back foot nationally and in respect of the Northern Powerhouse.
The budget had numerous references to that proposal, including the claim that Yorkshire was creating more jobs than France and that growth in the north was faster than the south. The Northern Transport Strategy will pave the way for the trans Pennine HS3 which is more relevant to the economy of the North than HS2.
The weakness in Osborne’s approach to the Northern Powerhouse is the apparent favouritism of Greater Manchester. The announcement that the councils can keep 100% of additional growth from business rates follows on from its combined authority and NHS deals. Meanwhile the West Yorkshire deal announced this week has been described by the leader of Leeds Council as “not matching our ambitions.” They are paying the price for not agreeing to an elected mayor.
The Tories have developed a strong relationship with Labour Manchester with Ed Miliband’s and Ed Balls’ vision for the North left unclear. They are right to point to the unfair share of the cuts being borne up here but there is no way they should have allowed the Conservatives to become the champions of cities where they scarcely have a councillor.
It was a budget designed to shoot as many of Labour’s foxes as possible. The expected £23bn surplus forecast in the autumn statement led to claims Osborne was taking us back to spending levels from the 1930s. The surplus has now been reduced to £7bn.
The £900m bank levy and tax evasion measures were designed to blunt Labour’s attack. To answer the charge that the Tories were shamelessly courting the grey vote, we have the cut in tax relief on pension contributions and the ISA for first time buyers.
CONSTITUENCY FOCUS: LANCASTER AND FLEETWOOD.
This is Labour’s top target in the North West. The Tory MP Eric Ollerenshaw has a majority of just 333 in this seat that strangely combines two quite different communities. Fleetwood on one side of the Wyre estuary has a fishing background whilst miles away to the north Lancaster is a university city where the Greens have strength on the council.
The likely winner is Labour’s Cat Smith whose job involves supporting social work professionals.