The chancellor’s speech at the conservative party conference in Birmingham last Monday 29th September 2014, promised to push lopsided austerity, benefit cuts and targeted tax reductions further than ever before. Amid much whispering about the next Ukip defections, the nerves of the Conservative congregation needed soothing, and George Osborne duly reassured. He offered himself as a steadfast man who had stuck with his plan, after faint hearts had urged him to ease the retrenchment. The argument has lost none of its theoretical force, but the chancellor is no longer troubled with the past. He is focused instead on a present in which, he claimed, “Britain is the fastest-growing, most job-creating, most deficit-reducing advanced economy on earth”.
Conservatives at the conference are concerned that improved economic figures are not being reflected by better polling figures for the party. One aspiration of this conference is to convince voters that they will benefit from the recovery under the Conservatives.
It is as well to check the detail, and take account of the long lean years that came before, but the very fact that George Osborne can talk like this without being ridiculed is a supremely important political change. The bravado, however, invites doubts. After all, average incomes remain lower than at the dawn of the crisis. What’s more, after four years of Osborne Economics, there is a sense that this chancellor’s choices have redoubled rather than lightened the load of the poor and the middling. Instead of tacking or trimming, he resolves to press on.
The chancellor struck a confident note in general on Monday, and in one sense offered a strikingly honest pre-election statement about just how many people are set for further difficulties. But however confident Mr Osborne feels about the economy, he should not assume that the majority will be content to see low-paid workers with sky-high rents singled out for particular pain.