‘Walking tall again’ was the opening sentiment out of George Osborne’s Budget box today.
And with macroeconomic numbers going in his direction he looked taller politically today.
Just three years ago the Chancellor presided over the ‘omnishambles’ Budget which gave Labour its lead in the opinion polls. A lead which continued for a further two years.
This wasn’t his ‘political’ Plan A. In the autumn of 2010 the Tories had gameplanned to be miles ahead of a Miliband-led Labour party. But it didn’t happen.
Today’s Budget was all about creating the springboard for the Conservatives election campaign (that’s why the Lib Dems are having their own announcement in the Commons tomorrow – it’s unusual but it’s been an unusual five years of Coalition – and this is the end of the current one).
The Chancellor has packed this statement with SO much clever politics.
Limiting pension funds as mechanism to outmanoeuvre Labour. A savings plan for first time buyers which starts before the election. A huge tax giveaway on savings and ISAs. Fuel duty and booze duty down again!
Osborne’s vision for devolution across the UK is one of his most striking ideas. A northern powerhouse has been extended to Wales, the South West, Yorkshire and Scotland. Other than those pensions changes in 2014 and the savings pledges this year – UK wide fiscal devolution may actually be his legacy.
But Labour is spelling out very clearly that the Tories plans for deficit reduction will mean massive public service cuts in the next Parliament and they are focusing on their lead issue – safeguarding the NHS. Miliband also stood taller today.
Number 10 and Number 11 Downing Street will be pouring over this weekend’s opinion polls for signs of a pre-election bounce. If they get it – stand by for the Prime Minister walking out of PMQs next Wednesday and going straight to Buckingham Palace to seek an immediate dissolution of Parliament – and an election campaign that gets going a week earlier than planned.
If there is no bounce – both of the main parties will remain locked in mortal combat.
The closing idea from George Osborne’s speech was that the UK is the ‘Comeback Country’. What he wants you to think tonight is that he is the Comeback Chancellor.
Fifty days to make your mind up.
This article was originally posted in the Huffington Post