During the Brown years it was "stability," but it looks as though the
watchword for Chancellor Osborne’s first Budget will be "progressive". This is the word that’s being bandied about behind-the-scenes, and the coalition seems confident that it has
the policies to match the rhetoric. As the Guardian reports today, it’s likely that the
personal income tax allowance will be raised by £1,000 or so, to help shield the least well-off from tax rises elsewhere. And the paper quotes a Tory aide saying that the richest will
pay more, "both in absolute terms and as a percentage of their income."
Whether he drops the p-word or not, the arguments behind it are comfortable territory for Osborne. If you recall, he made a speech last year in which he argued that spending cuts and deficit reduction could, and should, be done precisely to
protect the poor. And he has pushed the "progressive Conservative" case ever since. Then, it was partially about claiming ground that Labour thought was their own. Now,
it’s about reassuring Lib Dem backbenchers, as well as the public as a whole, about the government’s intentions.
Will it work? Well, the move to raise personal allowances is certainly welcome, and should ease a few Lib Dem worries. And it’s striking just how calm proceedings seem to have been over
the last few days. But the potential remains for tension over everything from spending cuts to capital gains tax. Yes, the coalition has got a tough job on its hands today, quite aside
from saving the economy.