Flora Coleman is Deputy Chair of the Tory Reform Group.
This was an optimistic Budget from Philip Hammond at a time when wider economic challenges were leaving many concerned that this would be a disappointment.
It seeks to tackle the big challenges that we as a society face of technological change and inter-generational unfairness, and reaches out to those most concerned, setting out clear and well targeted policies.
It serves as a Budget of compassionate Conservatism, with policies that seek to bring us together as one nation that is ready for the future. So much was aimed at those trying to get on in life and the looser definition of young that we saw emerge in the general election: anyone under 45.
For this, the Chancellor should be commended – it continues to be evident that lessons have been learned from the result in June, and there has been a conscientious effort to address our offering to younger voters especially.
There will be an inevitable criticism that too much is being done to woo this age group. The ‘millennial railcard’ has proved especially controversial, but this is misplaced. Like it or not, the party needs to future proof itself and face up to some seriously concerning polling in terms of the under-45s.
Hammond himself might not be able to do it alone, but to ensure the success of the Conservatives into future generations it is vital we seek to address inter-generational unfairness.
The Tory Reform Group, which has its highest membership ever, is one channel to understanding the needs of the under-45s. Many of our members are young professionals in this age bracket and we must ensure we offer them a reason to champion the party and the Conservative cause.
Hot on the heels of the much-needed changes to student loan repayments that we saw at the Party Conference, the Government ensured that real wages of those on the lowest incomes will continue to rise. For example, as a result of tax cuts and National Living Wage someone working full-time on NLW will take home £3,800 a year more than in 2010. This is the Government making the best of its powers to increase real wages in a free-market society.
I cannot be alone as an early thirty-something in seeing my social media feeds full of overjoyed friends, about to take their first step on the housing ladder, excited at the prospect of that little extra cash to help sort their first home, pay for movers etc. I spotted soft Corbynistas, previously swept away by seemingly easy socialism, actually congratulating the Chancellor by name.
To some this might seem almost a miracle. It is not. For too long we have been unfairly portrayed as against youngsters by certain parts of the media, which is something we all know is untrue. Labour’s pipeline dreams of abandoned tuition fees will ultimately saddle even more generations of debt, whilst our Conservative policies show a pragmatic approach in securing a stake in society for the next generation.
The technical education measures and commitment to retraining through schemes such as UnionLearn will prepare our future workforce, and enable our current workforce to take the opportunities in our world-leading tech industries. Coupled with the taxation and investment changes, this will make the environment better for our high-growth knowledge intensive companies that are delivering jobs, growth and innovation.
Could the Budget be criticised for lacking an overarching narrative? Yes. But so what? It contains the right measures for our people and our society.
It’s still a challenging time in the United Kingdom – the General Election showed this and yesterday the Office of Budget Responsibility proved it. There is still much more to be done: next year’s local elections could well still be tricky, especially in London.
However it is in our cities that we need to ensure our messaging around optimism and home ownership really cut through. It’s not easy but we are creeping along the right path – this package of measures are much needed and most importantly, hopeful.