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By Peter Hoskin
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Osborne

First,
George Osborne joined Twitter. Then there was his pub-ready Budget. Then there
were tweets about football. And now, today, there’s a speech on jobs and welfare,
delivered to the staff of a Morrisons depot in Kent. Not only is the Submarine
Chancellor becoming more visible, but he’s also becoming less remote. Mr
Osborne may never be The People’s Chancellor, but it seems as though there’s at
least some effort in that direction.


This
impression certainly carried into the text of the speech. There was a lot of
direct talk to the audience – “people like you” and “my kids and your kids”,
etc. – and most of it centred around the fairness of the tax and benefit
system. Referring to the reforms that came in yesterday, he said:

This month, 9 out of 10 working
households* will be better off as a result of the changes we are making.

This month we
will make work pay…

…The benefit
system is broken; it penalises those who try to do the right thing; and the
British people badly want it fixed.

We agree – and those who don't are on the wrong side of the British
public.”

And
he continued:

What this Government is trying to
do is to put things right.

We’re trying
to make the system fair on people like you, who get up, go to work, and expect
your taxes to be spent wisely.

And we’re
trying to restore hope in those communities who have been let down by
generations of politicians by getting them back into work.

So our reforms
have one simple principle at their heart – making sure people are better off in
work than on benefits.”

Now,
it should be stressed that none of these arguments are particularly new: doing
right by those who go out to work every morning, for instance, was a favourite
theme of Mr Osborne’s even before he became Chancellor. But they now have a
greater force and clarity to them, which many attribute to the presence of
Lynton Crosby on Downing Street. And, like I say, Mr Osborne seems to be more
heavily involved in selling them.

But
there’s one particular fact that threatens to undermine Mr Osborne’s rhetoric –
and it’s one that is raised by
the Financial Times (£)
and by
Ian Birrell
today, and which I’ve mentioned plenty
of times
before. The persistence of universal benefits and pensioner perks doesn’t
exactly speak to the idea of taxes being “spent wisely”, particularly at a time
of fiscal restraint.

*There’s
some confusion about the figures that were released in the speech. See here.

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