“This is the Budget for Britain, the Comeback Country” was how Chancellor George Osborne summed up his final anthology of economic announcements after five years of Coalition Government.
Presenting a speech laden with meaning for the coming campaign, he placed heavy emphasis on his own party’s themes of security and continuity, as epitomised by its much-promoted and consistently-referenced “long-term economic plan”.
Employing a heavy dose of irony, the Chancellor gently mocked own his party’s commitment to remaining on-message as he highlighted international praise for the UK’s economic performance.
Competitiveness with the UK’s neighbours was a significant theme of the statement, with Mr Osborne dropping in various references to his desire to outdo the Germans and avoid the trappings of a French economic model respectively.
“Global economic risks are rising”, he warned, before going on to announce measures including support for the domestic oil and gas industry, which has been heavily afflicted by dramatic falls in wholesale international prices.
The Budget also carried a strong emphasis on the Government’s desire to spread economic growth beyond London, contrasted with a damning assessment of an ostensibly widening gap under Labour.
“We are seeing a truly national recovery”, the Chancellor claimed, taking the time to highlight investment in a number of projects in areas beyond his party’s south-eastern heartlands, including Wales and the prospective “northern powerhouse”.
Sticking to the plan was the central plank of Mr Osborne’s appeal to voters, as he attempted to demonstrated how his Government had improved the lives of Britons over the past five years.
Once more employing the rhetoric of household finances to describe the national economic picture, he insisted that ministers remained “vigilant”, and claimed: “we put economic security first”.
However, there was a scintilla of conciliation as he referenced the need for balance, perhaps reflecting Labour’s chosen line of attack in recent weeks, which has consisted of accusations that the Chancellor’s spending plans represent an “extreme” course of aggressive pruning to the state.
The state could be “neither smaller than we need, nor bigger than we can afford”, the Chancellor declared, setting a moderate tone.
Conjuring a nation defined by its “hard work and sacrifice” in an echo of the Conservatives’ “hardworking people” slogan, he concluded by combining a narrative of effort with the spectre of a threat: “Britain is on the right track; we mustn’t turn back”.
Responding to the Budget on behalf of the Opposition, Labour Leader Ed Miliband in turn sought to disrupt Mr Osborne’s message by emphasising what he saw as its disingenuous character. In fact, he suggested, the Chancellor was planning “at least as many cuts” as he had already made, to be made on an expedited timescale.
“It’s a Budget people won’t believe from people they don’t trust”, he declared, attacking the ostensible redrawing of key indices in order to present the Coalition’s performance in a positive light.
Most notably, this included the Government’s presentation of its performance of the deficit, on which Mr Miliband accused ministers of “rewriting history”.
Taking on the sense of collective endeavour that the Chancellor had sought to foster, Mr Miliband rejected his party’s claim that “we’re all in it together”, instead making reference to the perceived elitism of the Conservative leadership – a “trust fund Chancellor” and a “Bullingdon Club Prime Minister”.
Turning to his party’s own central campaign theme, the Opposition Leader lamented the “glaring omission” of significant measures on the NHS and investment in public services, and, perhaps in revenge for the Conservatives’ attacks on his own failure to reference their favoured political territory in his 2014 Conference speech, inferred that this showed the Conservatives could not be trusted on the NHS.
Taking up the Chancellor’s theme of geographically distributed growth, Mr Miliband claimed that a change of Government was needed to create a “truly national recovery”, and mocked Conservative aspirations to represent the north by highlighting the party’s failure to gain electoral traction there.
Proffering a relatively intellectual take on the problems afflicting the country, in comparison to the Chancellor’s populist language, he suggested that the British economy was “too unproductive, too imbalanced and too insecure”, and called out what he saw as an ideological Conservative insistence on poor pay and job security.
Concluding, he sought to redirect the Conservative message with a simple plea: “Britain needs a better plan […] Britain needs a Labour Government”.
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As Senior Political Analyst at DeHavilland, Anna Haswell leads on financial services policy, as well as covering media issues. In her capacity as Content Marketer, she is also responsible for DeHavilland's briefings and analysis output, working across teams to ensure relevant messages reach current and prospective clients alike. She is a graduate of the University of Oxford and Goldsmiths, University of London.