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By Peter Hoskin
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Judging
by the words drifting from the conference stage this morning, the Tories are eager
to cause a bit of intra-coalition mischief over business policy. First, in the
run-up to George Osborne’s speech, Amber Rudd introduced Michael Fallon as the “real
Business Secretary”. And then Mr Fallon went on to describe a “lesson
for Labour and even the Liberal Democrats: instead of thinking up new taxes,
get behind British business…”

Yet
it was the Chancellor’s speech that would really have made Lib Dems gag and
choke. This wasn’t because it contained little cracks at their expense — it’s
didn’t; Mr Osborne even made sure to praise Danny Alexander within seconds of
taking to the stage. It was because it revolved around those big policy
statements that we heard yesterday, and which many Lib Dems supporters will
loathe. That £10 billion-worth of further welfare cuts is now a goal, not just
an idea for general floatation. And there will be no mansion tax or wealth tax
in return for them.


So
what are the Lib Dem leadership going to do? Will they acquiesce, is a way that
they once suggested they wouldn’t? Well, in truth, they have been cooling
their opposition
to the £10 billion of cuts for a few weeks now. But, in
the immediate aftermath of Mr Osborne’s speech, there is also some doubt
about whether they will actually sign up to the policy. If compromise is to
come, it is probably to be found in the Chancellor’s line that “those with the
most should contribute the most”. Not a wealth tax, but — who knows? — perhaps that persistent
chestnut: more action against tax avoiders and evaders.

Of
course, the £10 billion of extra welfare cuts is tremendously important not
just for Coalition relations, but also for the Tories’ message going into the
next election. It could be a tough sell, but Mr Osborne’s speech suggested how
it would be done: by emphasising the party’s determination to “finish the job
we have started” and by pointing to the injustices and inconsistencies that
exist in a benefits system, and culture, that has yet to be fully fixed. We’ve
heard these lines before, but they seemed to be better delivered today. Mr
Osborne talked about people — albeit abstract people; dockworkers, nurses,
schoolteachers — more than he usually does. And his tone was unfussy and
confident.

There
was confidence, too, in Mr Osborne’s defence of the 50p tax cut (“getting rid
of a crippling 50p rate that raised no money and cost jobs”) and in his attacks
on Ed Miliband (“it is risible to think that you become a One Nation politician
by repeating the words over and over”). I’m still keen to her a more considered
response to Mr Miliband, but it might be being saved for David Cameron’s speech
on Wednesday. Besides, the jokes and jibes all acted as preamble for Mr Osborne
to exclaim “Workers of the world unite!” when announcing his new
scheme
on workers’ shares and job rights.

In
the end, this was not a surprising speech that put forward lots arguments and
ideas we aren’t already familiar with — it was a form of story, yet a fairly
well-told one. Those hunting for growth policies had better keep on waiting for
the day of the Autumn Statement. That’s the Osborne speech that really matters.

P.S. As an addendum to Matthew's post, here's an photo a postcard that was being handed out after Osborne's speech. Much is being made of the 25 per cent cut in the deficit, no doubt partially to nullify Labour's claims about "rising borowing":

Photo

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