Sitting directly behind the Chancellor during his Budget speech was the Tory backbencher Sir Tony Baldry. He wins the 2015 award for the most excitable cry of joy from anyone in the House of Commons Chamber, and it was thanks to Osborne’s pledge of more money… for fixing church roofs.
To be fair to Baldry he is the representative of the Church Commission – the established church’s property arm – so he has a vested interest. But when the budget’s biggest celebration was about £30m worth of lead, you know it was extremely dull.
The whole affair could be best described as “solid”. It certainly contained cause for discrete happiness amongst those who care about the deficit, but how many voters fall into that category? Overall this wasn’t the political budget many Tories were hoping for.
In previous years Osborne has shown a canny knack for helping backbenchers in marginal seats. The play this time was to demonstrate economic competence. The real headline was the sale of more of the banking sector nationalised by Labour. This will fund repayment of government debt. Exciting stuff!
In his speech Osborne said that by the end of the Parliament: “We’ll have paid off the debts incurred in the South Sea Bubble (1711), the First World War (1918), the debt issued by Henry Pelham (1752), George Goschen (1888) and William Gladstone (1853). The Gordon Brown debt will take longer.”
But the government will use £9bn from sales of Lloyds shares and £13bn of mortgage assets from Northern Rock to attempt just that. After the Chancellor sat down his spokesman described the budget as “as much about where we are, as were we are going to”.
In practise this meant an awful lot of crowing about economic indexes, forecasts and a pile of figures that showed life was good. There were lots of examples about how much better it is than anywhere in the Eurozone, which is no bad thing in of itself.
The strategy was to play it safe and let the ‘feel good factor’ from day-to-day life to do the talking in May. The problem is, people already know the Conservatives can run the economy, they just hate mainstream politicians.
Hard to see how “fixing the roof when the sun is shining” is going to change that at the ballot box.