In addition to his effective attack on Labour’s welfare policy, George Osborne used the Autumn Statement to take on Ed Miliband on another key electoral battleground.
Over the past few months, the Labour leader has been trying to convince voters that he has the solution to their cost of living woes. His biggest offer so far has been the Living Wage, which sounds lovely to voters because it involves them being paid more money, but actually doesn’t work (something Miliband is clearly sufficiently aware of to stop him pledging to make a living wage mandatory). The coalition already had its own offer in the form of the rise in the personal tax allowance announced in March’s budget, but that got little airtime as everyone was upset about pasties and caravans. While Miliband was talking the talk, they were already walking the walk, but voters hadn’t noticed.
So revisiting the tax threshold was an excellent idea yesterday: it reminds voters of what the government has already done, and gives them a little bit more besides. Taking more households out of tax has a far wider effect than trying to shame some companies into paying higher wages: the government’s policy means more people can keep more of their money, while Miliband’s policy means only those lucky enough to work for companies with healthy balance sheets and generous bosses will benefit.
On top of that, the Chancellor’s rabbit-out-of-the-hat announcement that he was cancelling the 3p rise in fuel duty dealt with another key cost of living issue. Petrol prices don’t just affect drivers: they drive up the cost of food, too, and so this announcement is very effective.
One Tory backbencher I chatted to last night who normally can’t resist slagging off Osborne was thrilled with the fuel duty decision as it appealed directly to their blue collar constituents. Osborne was back in his groove yesterday as Tory strategist, as these two announcements showed.