Who’d have thought it? Rather than imposing draconian austerity on a scale we could only dare imagine, Mr Osborne’s first ever Conservative majority Budget delivered massive economic and social boosts to people of all walks of life, in a package of measures which must surely make up the most progressive Red Box of his chancellorship.
While it did include some traditionally Tory policies designed to appease the right of his party – such as cuts to inheritance tax and a commitment to spending 2% of GDP on defence – it also contained many more commitments which will help those who most would think of as inherently anti-Tory. By putting into law a national living wage of over £9 an hour and increasing the money available for the poorest university students, it seems Mr Osborne is well on his way to shedding his posh bogeyman stereotype and transforming himself into a progressive icon, capable of bringing his party levels of popularity it has not seen since the 1980s.
If only this new willingness to combine party ideology with common sense reform could be seen on both sides of the Speaker’s Chair. In contrast to the Conservative’s approach of adopting what some would see as traditionally left wing polices in an attempt to reach out to and engage with broader constituencies, the Labour party is still clinging to the remains of Ed Miliband’s platform of irrelevant populism and failed economics.
Many in the opposition see proportional representation, Lord’s reform and votes for 16 year olds as priorities, oblivious to the issues that really matter. Of these, first and foremost is protecting the wallets of ordinary working Britons. Fulfilling highbrow ideological dreams which will have no discernible effect on people’s everyday lives simply can’t compete with careful economic stewardship. As long as the left continues to reject the electorate’s desire for down to Earth pragmatism and ideological fluidity, it is unclear how Labour can retake the mantle of the movement representing the working people of Britain, especially with the added challenge of UKIP and the SNP.
At its heart, last week’s budget serves to prove that the silent majority of voters who backed Mr Osborne over Mr Balls didn’t vote for ‘the nasty party’ of the Thatcher years. 13 years in opposition and 5 years in coalition have transformed the Conservatives from a tired and grey party of reactionaries into a modern political force, passionate about actions such as lifting millions out of income tax and welfare, not gimmicks like the ill thought out mansion tax. In order to get into government, they astutely realised that votes are won not by appealing to the loud cries of their activists and backbenchers, but the narrative of apolitical common sense.
All of this brings us to the fast approaching Labour leadership election, in which their party faces a big decision: take back the progressive economic and domestic policies which the Tories have so cleverly requisitioned from Labour’s most successful politician, Tony Blair, or retreat to a further 10 or 15 years of crushing opposition, watching in horror from the wilderness as their working class voters desert them for the action and passion of the new man of the people. George Osborne.