George Osborne is the consummate tactician. With 153 days to go to the election, there’s only one thing on his mind, and that’s how to breeze past opposition parties on the journey back to Downing Street. And who can blame him?
After all, he’s the one who has kept the economy on the road and growing faster than any other major economy. The electorate’s not too sure about the bloke on the other (Labour) side on that front, but they do like the fact that he’s not likely to give the banks, the power companies or owners of expensive properties an easy ride.
So shamelessly Osborne yesterday introduced a measure which will cost banks around £4bn and another which will add to the cost of selling properties above £937,500, hitting bankers and relatively prosperous property owners in two fell swoops. And what better than to also target the multinationals and their horrid tendency to be ultra efficient with their tax payments, too?
In his budget in 2012, the chancellor targeted pasty makers with a tax on hot food and came painfully unstuck. The masses who liked a pasty or two rose up and forced Osborne into an embarrassing U-turn. The banks, owners of properties above £1m or so and the multinationals are unlikely to force such an embarrassing retreat since they might find sympathy hard to come by.
While keeping the fiscal position tight, Osborne has chosen to use the funds raised to give little boosts to those he is keen on courting. So there’s an abolition on airline passenger duty for children, tax breaks for companies making children’s cartoons, tax breaks for pensioners and money for the north, including a sovereign wealth fund in the future to invest shale gas profits whence they originated.
Arguments will rage about the budget deficit and whether it’s coming down quickly enough but the chancellor will argue that, however much of a problem it is for him, it would be worse if the electorate let the other side in.