James Forsyth James Forsyth

Politics: Can Osborne make Britain right again?

George Osborne is using his budgets not only to get the economy moving but to make Britain a centre-right country once more.

George Osborne is using his budgets not only to get the economy moving but to make Britain a centre-right country once more.

George Osborne is using his budgets not only to get the economy moving but to make Britain a centre-right country once more. The political test of his economic policy will be whether the Conservatives succeed in creating a new majority who feel invested in balanced budgets and low taxes.

It is tempting to dismiss Gordon Brown as a failure: a man who coveted his neighbour’s job for a decade, and then didn’t know what to do when he got it. But just because his career ended in failure, doesn’t mean that he failed to achieve anything. In his ten years at the Treasury and 13 years in government, Brown chipped away at the vigorous virtues unleashed by Thatcherism. He increased the size of the state — extending its grip on the middle classes — and shifted the centre of British politics to the left.

Even after the flaws in Brownism were exposed by the financial crisis, the country wasn’t prepared to turn decisively away from it. Too many voters felt that they were dependent on Labour for their job, their benefits or their tax credits. Tory candidates report that even taxpayers who were net contributors to the state had been bamboozled by Brown’s labyrinthine system of tax credits into thinking that ever higher state spending was in their interest.

To Osborne, who was in charge of the Tories’ general election campaign, the lesson was simple. In government, he had to unwind the processes by which Brown had turned people into Labour voters and create a new model Tory army. In the decisive shadow cabinet meetings that preceded the creation of the coalition, Osborne stressed to colleagues that it was only from government that they could move the centre ground of politics.

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