GEORGE Osborne took big steps yesterday to rid the Conservative Party of its image as being on the side of the rich.
He took aim at middle Britain as he ordered an overall £28 billion tax rise to soften the effects of austerity on Britain’s lowest-paid workers and Labour supporters.
Council tax is set to soar, buy-to-let landlords will be hit and fuel taxes will rise yet the Chancellor axed his plan to radically slash welfare spending.
And to the anger of many true blue Tories, he increased the amount Britain gives in foreign aid while slashing the Home Office budget at a time of record immigration.
Mr Osborne and David Cameron are determined to launder the Tory reputation for being the party of Britain’s wealthy.
They both agree this is a toxic image which loses them countless votes from people who agree with their policies but can’t bring themselves to back the Conservatives.
Poll after poll shows that around a fifth of voters agree with the policies put forward by Mr Cameron in a “blind tasting” – but reject them once they discover they’re Conservative proposals.
The Chancellor did give away £27 billion in his Autumn Statement but the choice of where it will be spent says everything about his attempt to change the Tory brand.
Key to this was a rethink on his plan to curb welfare handouts which would have further positioned the Conservatives as the “nasty party”.
His decision to spend some hard-earned personal political capital in this rethink shows how keen he is to position the Tories as caring.
Businesses were hit by an £11 billion raid to pay for three million apprentices; people building an alternative pension by investing in buy-to-let property were given a 3% stamp duty hike; and council tax will soar to hand £6 billion to Ministers.
Money will be spent instead on a massive programme to rebuild Britain’s creaking roads, rail, housing and other crucial parts of infrastructure.
This will make Britain a golden place for foreign firms to invest but crucially, ensure people have an easier day-to-day life as they travel to and from their workplace.
The injection of cash into the “building a better Britain” project will also fuel the economy as more construction firms are hired.
Many middle-of-the-road Conservatives welcomed yesterday’s statement. But some on the right believe it should have been more austere.
The Daily Telegraph greeted the news by hailing “the end” of the days of austerity.
But this morning Mr Osborne has been crystal clear – warning that there will be many more years of penny-pinching ahead as he seeks to rebalance the books so Britain never again overspends and saddles the next generations with unpayable debt.
The Chancellor has more than one eye on his own future.
He is determined to ensure he succeeds Mr Cameron as Conservative leader in 2019, ahead of a 2020 General Election which the Conservatives are already on course to win.
Labour’s John McDonnell has become a laughing stock in the media after a misplaced stunt introducing Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book to the Despatch Box badly backfired.
Most Labour MPs were aghast at the attempt to seize the headlines.
McDonnell successfully got the headlines – but not the ones he wanted and commentators are increasingly writing him off as a Shadow Chancellor of any seriousness.
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