In the wake of Osborne’s address to the Commons, the general consensus in the House appeared to be one of mild relief - Ed Balls and Labour notwithstanding.
Welcome news in the form of a projected deficit reduction, provided by the OBR, set the ball rolling for what appears to show – at first glance at least – that the chancellor’s medicine is working.
Starting with the obligatory painting of the fractious economic picture – the trials of the eurozone, and of course the extent of the mess left by the previous administration, many sensed it was merely to prove a prelude to the anticipated deluge of bad news.
However, despite figures showing that the economy will have contracted by 0.1 percent by the close of this year, Osborne went on to state that the following five years should show that GDP is set to increase steadily, reaching 2.8 percent growth by 2017.
Having caught the attention of the House, Osborne began on a measured, and increasingly confident delivery, climaxing in the announcement that not only would the 3p rise in fuel duty be put back – but scrapped altogether. Amid a fire-storm of cheers from the government backbenches, Osborne – a faint smile across his face – was quick to sound the usual cautionary notes “It’s a hard road, but were getting there”.
Other measures proposed by Osborne stuck to the script: cutting pension tax relief, a measure the chancellor admitted wouldn’t be popular, forgoing the caveat “among my own party”, whilst further welfare cuts look set to reign. Admitting his plans were “fiscally neutral”, ie. giving with one hand whilst taking away with the other, a further concession was that, whilst fiscal mandates would be met, they would be done so in four years, not three.
Having held the dispatch box for over fifty minutes, Osborne sounded off strongly, inviting his opposite number to respond. Balls, clearly disorganised in light of the chancellor’s strong performance, got off to a poor start, before falling back on what seemed to be an increasingly perfunctory line of attack: Osborne’s penchant of robbing the poor to give to the rich.
The reaction of the backbenches of the House proved more telling: for the coalition, Conservative Michael Fabricant stated that the reaction of the markets would act as a barometer in gauging the value of the statement, to which he duly supplied evidence to this end.
Others, including Lib Dem Steven Williams, welcomed the government’s proposed crackdown on tax evasion, supporting his belief that the coalition is committed to taking “difficult decisions”. Those on the opposition benches weighed in, most notably David Miliband and John Denham, who questioned the effectiveness of the government’s Work Programme and the chancellor’s “awful” record in delivering on his promises respectively.
Arguably the question most backbenches wanted answered was when would the proposed infrastructural projects be implemented? “Within two years” was the answer. Two years is a long time in politics, as the chancellor well knows.
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