Shadow Chancellor George Osborne has been the subject of many attacks by Labour and the Lib Dems. They seek to belittle him and question his judgement and suitability to be Chancellor of the Exchequer. David Cameron obviously knows differently as he has stuck by his colleague even when it might have been convenient or even beneficial in the short-term to replace him with someone such as Kenneth Clarke.
Osborne was the author of the Inheritance Tax policy which was credited with turning around Conservative Party fortunes and causing Gordon Brown to abandon plans for a General Election in Autumn 2007. The Labour party sought to neutralise the impact of the policy by proposing their own Inheritance Tax changes. Osborne also resisted the right of the Conservative Party who a few years back advocated specific promises of major tax cuts just before the financial crisis and recession hit the UK. The party owes him a debt of thanks. If he had not courted unpopularity by resisting the pressure then, we would be having to announce the reversal of previously announced tax cuts, in the run up to the General Election.
This week Osborne crafted a carefully considered announcement that a Conservative Government would partially reverse Labour’s National Insurance increase. This was doubly well calculated as it was done after the budget, leaving Labour no room to copy or neuter the announcement. As a result the Conservatives have a policy which is relatively inexpensive but also one which has a political value much greater than its economic impact. Partly reversing an increase in NI has become totemic of Conservative promises to cut taxes; it has also demonstrated a determination to cut waste in central government spending; but most importantly it has resulted in a public lining up of business behind the Conservatives. If the party had requested endorsements it would have been lucky to have received them from a quarter of the businesses lining up behind this policy.
Following the announcement of the NI cut, 23 major business people wrote to the Daily Telegraph supporting the policy. Labour rolled out Peter Mandelson to rubbish the policy but the line held and 14 additional top business people have added their names to the list of supporters, now covering a swathe of senior business chiefs, some of whom are Labour advisers or previous backers.
George Osborne is far more than an effective Shadow Chancellor, he is a strategic genius. Vince Cable has a largely undeserved reputation for economic nouse but his short-comings were exposed in the TV debate of the three party economic spokesmen, preferring to go for the cheap shot and easy laugh rather than proposing tangible solutions. Can anyone think of an eye catching economic policy that Cable has proposed recently and which has captured the public or business imagination? I can’t!
Osborne has demonstrated a cool head under pressure and the ability to look past the easy win to gain the longer term benefit. This is an approach that the UK economy desperately needs at the moment. I look forward to Osborne taking up residence in Number 11 Downing Street and getting to grips with the economic mess that Labour has created (once again).