IT was the first all-Tory Budget in nearly two decades and the Conservative backbenchers loved every minute of it. They had been queuing for seats since 6.45am – remember that the ancient Mother of Parliaments only has room for two-thirds of its elected members. When Chancellor Osborne sat down after an hour, the gleeful screams from the Tory benches had an almost erotic sound, as they chanted “More! More”. Whether the rest of us – working poor, over-burdened families, or hard-pressed students – feel the same is another matter. I very much doubt it.

This was the very first Budget I have experienced actually sitting on the densely packed, sticky green leather benches of the Commons. For many years I have watched the proceedings on television, often live in a broadcast studio ready to pontificate or give instant judgement on the Chancellor of the day. What you might not realise is that watching the affair on screen makes everything a great deal more comprehensible than being in the actual chamber 20 feet from George Osborne.

For starters, the howling and baying of the Tory benches – beside themselves with joy that the neo-liberal (read classic Thatcherite) agenda was once again in their grasp – drowned out a lot of what the Chancellor was saying. To be fair, the same was also true of the angry riposte from the Labour and SNP benches when Osborne announced his long-expected and merciless financial attacks on the working poor. The wooden-panelled walls of the great chamber magnify the shouts to eardrum-crushing decibels.

So one is better off watching at home on the telly, where the microphones in front of the Chancellor transmit his every tricky word clearly to everyone except those actually in the House. There is also the fact that television gives you a running commentary and assessment of each measure the Chancellor announces, with everyone from the independent Institute of Fiscal Studies to the BBC’s well-sourced Robert Peston.

If the Chancellor is pulling a fast one, you are much more likely to hear about it first by watching on the box than we will sitting in the chamber. I tried the technique of balancing my iPad on my knee, with the BBC live budget commentary scrolling before me. Plus I had to hand the infamous Red Book, containing the Budget numbers, which becomes available the minute the Chancellor gets to his feet. However, trying to read, watch and listen simultaneously was far from ideal. The SNP Treasury team was tasked with feeding lines to Stewart Hosie, who had the job of making a reply to Osborne after Labour.

SO has George Osborne delivered the new Tory nirvana? Some Chancellors are technicians who enjoy the budget process as an exercise in financial alchemy rather than ideology. I consider Labour’s Denis Healey or even Thatcher’s erstwhile acolyte, Nigel Lawson, are in that category. Some are out of their depth or plain duffers, like Norman Lamont. A very few are political Chancellors, with both an agenda and the savvy to use the Treasury to achieve it. I put Gordon Brown and George Osborne in that box.

In one respect, therefore, George Osborne’s so-called Summer Budget is every Tory backbencher’s wet dream. I suspect the Iron Lady is also applauding from whatever right wing Valhalla her shade now inhabits. Osborne intends to take an axe to the state. By 2020, there will be a permanent budget surplus, ending forever (he hopes) the Keynesian interventionist state erected after World War II. Of course he’s said this before and failed – as Stewart Hosie tenaciously reminds the Chancellor after every Budget statement. And true to form, this Summer Budget puts back balancing the books by a year, compared with Osborne’s pre-election Budget in March.

However, this time I believe the Chancellor is serious. For starters, the economy has picked up speed and at long last the Treasury coffers are filling with tax receipts. This has given Osborne a sudden cash windfall. Allied to his savage £12 billion cuts to working tax credits and housing benefit, he has lots of fiscal room for manoeuvre. So why delay eliminating the annual borrow deficit by another year? In truth, his original timetable was a ruse to trap Ed Miliband and Ed Balls into being over-cautious about spending – which worked a treat.

Having seen off the Labour Party off as a serious rival for perhaps the next decade, Osborne can get down to dismantling the post-war social democratic state once and for all. From this perspective, given that the Treasury is awash with cash, the decision to run a budget surplus by 2020 implies an unnecessary acceleration of the cuts. Intelligent free market cheerleaders like the Financial Times and Economist had been urging Osborne to delay fiscal consolidation and spend more money on infrastructure investment to boost productivity. He’s rejected that advice, and the working poor carry the cost.

Where Osborne differs from cruder Thatcherites is that he is determined to rebuild the mass base of the Tory Party. To do that he needs to recruit English working-class conservatives of the type who voted Tory in the 1950s, and Ukip more recently. Personally, I’m not convinced the dynamic of modern globalising capitalism will let him – it is merciless about exporting jobs, crushing unions and keeping incomes low. But I’m fascinated by Osborne’s political overtures. Hence the rhetoric about a northern powerhouse, raising the living wage (which flummoxed the Labour front bench) and spending more on the English NHS.

However, when all is done, there were extraordinary holes in George Osborne’s Summer Budget. For you cannot dismantle the state and hope to mobilise the investment capital and scientific resources needed to compete in the new globalised world. America might look like a free enterprise economy but its scientific and innovative prowess is based squarely on its gigantic military spending. China’s economic miracle is a direct function of boundless, cheap state credit.

In his recent Mansion House speech to City bankers, George Osborne promised us a “plan for productivity” – what he deemed a “British plan for British jobs”. But there was no such plan in yesterday’s Budget. Instead, when you read the small print, we have actually regressed. Capital allowances to encourage industrial investment have been …er, cut. There is no boost to university research budgets, which have been flat for a decade. Maintenance grants in England for poorer students are abolished – replacement loans will add to student debt. Capital spending is down again.

What about the cut to Corporation Tax, to 18 per cent? UK firms currently sit on £550bn in cash reserves which they have little inclination to spend, other than to buy back their shares. Cutting their taxes will only swell this useless cash mountain, not lead to more investment. Indeed, the independent Office for Budget Responsibility, in papers published with the Budget, forecasts Britain’s current account deficit on trade will worsen in the next five years – a sure sign of failing productivity and competitiveness.

The Tories cheered George Osborne to the rafters yesterday but just wait until the economic roof falls in when American interest rates rise and Britain’s bubble economy has to face the real world.


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Housing: Pushing those already suffering further into poverty