Of course there is a tradition amongst Chancellors of the Exchequer that in the budgets immediately prior to an election, one tosses some meat in the direction of those one most fears will not be supporting you. In this, Mr Osborne has surpassed himself.
The enthusiastic waving of order papers by the Tory backbenchers reminded one of those fortunate souls who arrive at the hospital or doctor’s surgery for news of their test results fearing the worst, to be met with the good news that they are in the clear. Or let us say the frightened schoolboy waiting nervously outside the Headmaster’s study awaiting a beating to be told [by the head’] that his punishment is to be detention or “lines.” Happily then he sits alone in the classroom, the relief creating a smile on his face in the happy realisation that his buttocks are not stinging!
Of course these Tories know that their party awaits a fate substantially less worse than death in May’s elections for the European Parliament.
Tory strategists have already written these off for they realise that the target group of voters yesterday’s Budget was aimed at (middle class retired folk with savings and middle aged middle class folk with private pension pots in the Tory heartlands) will free to punish the Tories for their continued surrender to Brussels safe in the knowledge that the MEPs they elect are being sent to a foreign Parliament and not Westminster.
Of course there was an economic strategy behind yesterday’s budget as well.
Chancellor Osborne along with all the other EU finance ministers have the problem of debt. Huge amounts of it, public and private. Interest rates are at record lows in this country and the Chancellor wants to keep it that way. His problem is that this may help borrowers (public, corporate and private) but punishes savers and private pensioners as deposit accounts and annuities now give very poor returns.
What the Chancellor’s pensions reforms allow is for those with private pension pots to use the considerable fund that has been built up by investing in the stock market to provide an income from the stock market and not be forced to receive a much lower income from an annuity provider.
This will of course achieve two things: It will improve the income of those newly retiring and keep the stock market buoyant. Things that will ensure (he hopes) the votes of the middle class retired folk with savings and middle aged middle class folk with private pension pots in the Tory heartlands.