Half way through George Osborne’s BBC interview with Andrew Marr yesterday, I got a bit bored and tweeted that there seemed little purpose to the interview other than to remind people of two things we already know – that we have a coalition government, and that the Budget is on Wednesday. This was, I now confess, a case of premature twijaculation, as the purpose became clearer a little later on, when Marr asked him about the Sunday Times splash on rock stars seemingly avoiding tax. Cue Osborne doing a ‘soundbite with extra energy on the way‘ look, followed by bloodcurdling rhetoric about how he intended to punish such dodging.
Suddenly, the constantly articulated ‘I can’t tell you what’s in the Budget’ rule went out of the window as he made clear measures to deal with this would indeed be in the Budget. He did the same later on the subject of extended shopping hours during the Sundays of the Olympics.
The purpose of the first announcement was to give a sense, however spurious, that even if he cuts the top rate of tax for the wealthy, he was basically motivated by low and middle income earners and should not be seen as a friend of the rich.
But friend of the rich is what he is, in his own life and in his political life. In Saturday’s Financial Times magazine, which ran a broadly sympathetic review of David Cameron’s first two years as PM, Tory MP Nadine Dorries was nonetheless quoted as saying ‘policy is being run by two public-schoolboys who don’t know what it’s like not to afford things in the supermarket’.
The media broadly buys anything Cameron and Osborne feed them – his rock star rhetoric duly led the news for much of the day. Likewise continuing opposition to the NHS Bill is now being relegated down the news agenda, with something close to a news blackout on the march against the Bill at the weekend.
But the NHS is far from being the only area where the ‘give them the benefit of the doubt’ approach of most of the media, written and broadcast, is not shared by large swathes of the population.
Yesterday’s interview shows that Osborne understands the need, at the political level, to communcate a sense that we’re all in this together. But he will be judged by the policies he sets out, and it was not too difficult to see beneath the rhetoric the advance of a very traditional Tory Budget, and bad news for low and middle income earners compared with the good news for people at the top.