We’ve got just over half an hour until the Chancellor stands up to give his Budget statement in the House of Commons. It’s the last Budget, many Tory MPs believe, that he has to make a real difference to the party before 2015. And those who enjoy plotting against the leadership are touting it as one of the last chances David Cameron and George Osborne have to convince their own MPs that they’re worth backing for the long run. So what does the Chancellor need to do to emerge unscathed from this bleak Budget? Here are five boxes he needs to tick.
1. Cost of living. A big issue for Conservative MPs, and one that many of them have campaigned on vociferously. One of the most active campaigners has been Robert Halfon, who will be hoping that the rumours about the Chancellor either delaying or scrapping the fuel duty increase are true. The beer duty escalator and dropping the minimum alcohol price also fall into that category. I’ve been told that ‘lines to take’ sent to Tory MPs today focus heavily on the Budget being a cost of living one.
2. The Global Race. It’s that phrase again. As James explained in last week’s magazine, those MPs worried about Britain’s long-term competitiveness represent another group George Osborne does have a reasonable chance of satisfying. A gesture on tax reform could well do the trick.
3. No nasty surprises. This Budget has got to steamroller over the memory of last year’s ‘omnishambles’ with no small print takeaways that upset either of the groups above. The Treasury has already made this easier by preventing a re-run of the Coalition briefing battle on tax changes which left more space after the announcement for the problems with pasties, grannies and caravans to emerge. But it also, as I wrote earlier, needs to be a budget that doesn’t annoy Sun readers by taking away the little things that make life in a weak economy a little bit more bearable. Scrapping the beer tax would be one positive gesture: any more advances on Greggs products would not be.
4. A good sell. There will inevitably be scrapping between Tories and Lib Dems afterwards about whose tax threshold it is, but both parties need Ed Balls-like aggression when it comes to selling their measures. One problem with this for the Tories is that message discipline is an exceptionally unpopular concept in their party at the moment, while Labour MPs are currently very good not just at toeing the line in public, but with helpful questions in PMQs. On the subject of PMQs, we don’t have one after the Budget. That might be a good thing if it does turn out to be a bit messy, but it also means Cameron can’t drive key wins home from the dispatch box. The party leadership might want to make this a Budget that the country can forget quickly, rather than one that keeps popping up for months afterwards, but that doesn’t mean it should stay quiet on the positive parts of the package.
5. Careful politics. Last year’s Autumn Statement won George Osborne praise for the ‘elephant trap’ he’d set for Labour on benefits payments. But then this political game didn’t quite work out as well as he’d hoped, because the dividing lines Osborne had set between ‘workers’ and ‘shirkers’ didn’t match the stats on the number of working people the benefit uprating was going to hit. Any games to catch Labour with need to be ones that really trip up Ed Balls and Ed Miliband. There are plenty of opportunities for Osborne to do that effectively.Tags: Budget 2013, UK politics