Sebastian Payne

George Osborne: ‘I’m trying to shake the inertia of this country’

George Osborne: 'I’m trying to shake the inertia of this country'
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George Osborne is the man who wants to build and plan. On the Today programme, the Chancellor explained he was creating a National Infrastructure Commission, headed up by former Labour peer Andrew Adonis, because ‘Britain is pretty rubbish at making big decision on infrastructure’:

‘I’m trying to shake the inertia of this country and say we have got to plan and build for the future and I think the best way to do that is to have an independent body outside the party political fight, trying to build a national consensus, telling us in a calm and expert way what the country needs for its future and then I want to go ahead and building it and make sure we’re providing the jobs and security for working people not just in this generation but the next.’

The Chancellor cited the Howard Davies' commission on airport expansion as an example of Britain’s inability to build things, pointing out that the decision has been mulled around for 40+ years. Interestingly, Osborne said the Airport Commissions’ report laid out the options for an expansion at Heathrow or Gatwick — which is true, but Davies' main recommendation was a third runway at Heathrow:

‘We now have an independent report which has forced the choice on the government — made it very clear what the options are, ruled out all sorts of other options that were out there and said here, if you want to build a runway — which by the way you need to — you can either put one at Heathrow or you can put one at Gatwick and now you decide.’

This will give hope to anti-Heathrow campaigners (not least Zac Goldsmith), suggesting that the government is mulling both options equally. The timetable remains the same: Osborne said that a decision on which option the government is backing will be taken before Christmas but it’s got to be made ‘in a proper way.’

On the upcoming cuts to tax credits, Osborne didn’t deny that some individual families wouldn't be better off because of the tax credit cuts. He argued that it's one of the 'long term decisions we need to make as a country' as 'part of a new settlement':

‘The typical family with someone working full time on the minimum wage will be better off – not just a little bit better off but over £2,000 better off. If you include the lower taxes we’re also providing by increasing the personal allowance, if you include the free childcare as well for 3 and 4 year olds which we’re going to be provide, that family is supported.’

But that is a particular instance Osborne cited and when he was asked again about other families being worse off, he cited the 'whole thing in the round':

‘We published the figures that 9 out of 10 working families are better off, we’ve published the figures that showed the typical family with someone full time on the minimum wage, including a family where there is a single parent on the minimum wage, those people are better off if you take the whole thing in the round.’

The Chancellor did a pretty good job of brushing aside the potential toxicity of the tax credit changes, but many Tories are still privately concerned at the political impact. The way Osborne handled the questioning suggests the government is aware that it's going to be a painful transition. But this is unlikely to change Osborne's plans: the path is now set and the last thing the Tories want to look is weak in the face of Jeremy Corbyn's Labour.