I hammered out 1,800 words about the Budget yesterday, so I’ll refrain adding too many more. But there’s one story in this morning’s papers that catches the eye. It’s this one (£) in the Sun. Apparently, George Osborne is to cut the 20 per cent duty imposed on the bingo industry.
Cuts to bingo taxes… who cares? Well, you’d be surprised. Bingo companies have promised to pass some of the savings on to their customers, in the form of bigger wodges of prize money, so quite a lot of people have a stake in this one. A petition calling for the tax to be cut drew around 340,000 signatures.
But it’s more the wider context of the bingo tax cut that’s significant. It is, friends of Osborne tell the Sun, part of a “blue collar-friendly” Budget – and you can see the other parts across the rest of today’s papers. From the prospect of another increase in the personal allowance to a welfare cap that extends into the next Parliament, it’s clear that the Chancellor has both the pocketbooks and politics of blue collar workers in mind.
This has always been a feature of Osborne’s Chancellorship, but it’s one that has grown in importance. His policies and even his very demeanour have become more of and for “the people”. It’s got to the point where he’s vigorously – and rightly, in my view – holding off attacks from Tory backbenchers over the 40p rate, on the grounds that a) higher rate taxpayers have gained in other ways, and b) tax cuts should, at a time of fiscal restraint, first be delivered to low-income earners.
What’s to explain this? Electoral realities, sure. But I’d also credit the collective influence of Osborne’s adviser Neil O’Brien, groups such as Renewal, and, of course, Robert Halfon. Barely a Budget goes by without the MP for Harlow receiving top billing and, often, a mention in the Chancellor’s speech itself. Indeed, he pops up in that Sun article I mentioned: “If the Chancellor does this, it would be a tax cut for many thousands of working people who play Bingo – from a Workers Budget.”
Given that this “Workers Budget” is just over a year away from the next election, it makes you wonder. 2010’s Invitation to Join the Government of Britain wasn’t particularly Halfonesque. What chance a Workers’ Manifesto next time around?