Wednesday 8th July was supposed to be a big day. It was the day that roughly for the last two months – that is ever since David Cameron walked back into Downing Street with a 12-seat majority – we were being primed to expect The First Purely Conservative Budget for 19 Years. Professional doom-mongers in the media and elsewhere had been deployed for weeks to make us suitably trepidatious about this event. It was, we were told, going to be something roughly akin to the coming of winter in Game of Thrones: sheets of ice would lay across the country, birdsong would cease and twisted, violent hobgoblins from beyond the Wall would rise up and take away our tax credits. That this, through the implications of democracy, was an outcome that had been willed by the people in a free and fair election was dropped from this commentary in the interests of narrative versimilitude.

As it happened, the first purely Conservative Budget for 19 years turned out to look a lot like the first purely Labour Budget for five, although it did not become fashionable to express this opinion until the weekend political programmes. The Treasury may have a patchy record on fiscal control, but it can generally be relied upon to prevent the penny from dropping until the Chancellor has long since departed to put on a hard-hat somewhere, and the first day’s admiring headlines have been written. Mr Osborne managed, as he invariably does, and as most Chancellors do, to make us think he had delivered an excellent Budget, simultaneously wise, fair and economically responsible, leaving it to pedants such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the editor of the Spectator to present their pessimistic discoveries in the following days. Thus this Budget will be remembered for the immediate reactions it provoked: Mr Osborne looking even more pleased with himself than usual, and, on this occasion, wearing a suit that fitted; Iain Duncan-Smith enjoying a form of ecstatic release in the stand-up section of the chamber; and Harriet Harman appearing to wonder what on earth it was she was supposed to say.

Labour loyalists pressed to review Ms Harman’s response to the Budget fell back upon the familiar trope that there is no job more difficult in politics than to be the Leader of the Opposition at Budget time. This may be to spare her blushes, but it is patently not true. The person with the most difficult job at Budget time is Speaker Bercow, by dint of the fact that convention prevents him from presiding over the statement itself. One imagines him instead pacing the high-ceilinged rooms of the Speaker’s apartments, rebuking the chairs for being too prolix in their guildedness and howling in frustration that these interventions will never be seen. Only the day before, Mr Bercow had been practising on Greg Mulholland, a hapless Liberal Democrat (the adjective is superfluous: there is no other kind) who had allegedly detained the chamber too long with his question about health policy. So magnificent was Speaker Bercow’s animadversion – which led to Mulholland fleeing the chamber while calling Bercow a pompous ass – that no one really minded that it took at least three times as long to deliver than had the original question.

By contrast, George Osborne’s Budget statement was masterfully sort and stuck to the conventions of confirming those announcements already made to Andrew Marr, the Sunday broadsheets and other outposts of our constitutional infrastructure. Since Budgets are as much about custom as they are economic policy making, Mr Osborne did not disappoint Tory traditionalists, producing the customary lepus ex machina – translated for the modern idiom as “rabbit out of the hat” – as he approached his peroration. The production of the rabbit was not a disappointment to those stern unbending Tories who have thus far survived compassionate Conservatism, although its nature would have been. The Chancellor had already been through his socialist repertoire of persecuting non-coms and taxing banks. Now he was about to appropriate another piece of the left’s clothing.

The “national living wage” is what we used to call the minimum wage before our language became conditioned by reading too many style supplements and most Conservatives are old enough to remember a time when they were having none of it. As recently as last Sunday’s Marr, the Chancellor appeared to be having none of it either, but now that turns out to have been nothing but a piece of legerdemain designed to make his rabbit even more silky-furred and sparkling-eyed when it appeared. The national minimum wage is to be set at £9 an hour by the end of the Parliament, thus allowing economists to model its impact against the most important comparator of all, which is the £8 an hour promised by Labour at the last election.

Subsequent analysis purported to show that the real beneficiary of this move will be the rich, since it seems that there is no end of households where an investment banker’s income is topped up by a partner putting in a couple of shifts a week at Tescos just so that Alastair and Cordelia can have new ski boots for the school trip. Such households have no use for government tax credits, though these get more important as you go further down the income scale and this correlates with the marginal rate at which these benefits will be withdrawn. All of this came out in the wash of the IFS’ calculations which proved, to the intrense satisfaction of all those in the Guardian and elsewhere who were expecting nothing less, that this was a Budget to clobber the already poverty-stricken.. Thus, what had looked in the middle of the week to have been a missed opportunity for grinding the faces of the poor into the dirt, turned out by the end not to have been such a betrayal of the promise of a pure Conservative Budget after all.

Conservatives were also buoyed the fact that one of their traditional enemies – the BBC – took severe casualties in the fighting – and that defence spending is to be kept at a minimum of 2% of GDP, thus sustaining a broader base of fusillade capacity against enemies of all kinds. All of this is thought to have boosted no end Mr Osborne’s chances of leading the Conservative Party. This is a thought that will no doubt have cheered him enormously as he headed into the Capital city fiefdom of his rival Johnson, which was about to be crippled by a 24-hour tube strike.

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