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We may be seeing the Chancellor George Osborne getting his way a lot more often in the coming months
IT IS FAIR TO SAY the reputation of the Chancellor has taken a bit of a battering this year. He used to be the man regarded as the master strategic political mind in government who was leading the UK from a debt-laden future into a leading economy founded on exports and private sector expansion. However, the double-dip recession and – more importantly in terms of his politicalreputation – the successive U-turns and tax fumbles (particularly in the last Budget) has sapped the confidence of Conservative MPs in their former star player.
That is why the government reshuffle over the summer was extraordinary in the ability of the Chancellor to stamp his mark on a number of departments that have been causing him issues in recent months. In these problematic departments we saw several Osborne allies parachuted in to key portfolios with a view to being much more inclined to toe the Treasury line than those they replaced. Examples include:
• Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) Over the summer a press briefing war took place between the DCLG and the Treasury, the former less than enthusiastic about further planning reform being a key strand of Osborne’s growth package. DCLG resistance to this was rewarded by all of its ministers being removed and the replacements including a new Planning Minister in theform of Nick Boles MP, the ultimate Cameron/Osborne insider.
• Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Vince Cable MP is resented in Osborne circles for being a soft-Left obstacle to a more radical treatment for the economy. While it was simply not possible to move him directly, the reshuffle saw two MPs that enjoy close relationships with Osborne transferred to the department in the shape of Michael Fallon MP and Matthew Hancock MP (Osborne’s former chief of staff).
• Department for Transport (DfT) Similarly in Transport, the long running battle of wills with regards to airport capacity in the south-east was resolved in the Chancellor’s favour, not only by shifting Justine Greening MP to the Department for International Development but also by moving on Theresa Villiers to become Northern Ireland Secretary. In their place come Patrick McLoughlin MP and Simon Burns MP, both much more inclined to the Chancellor’s way of thinking on the issue of increasing airport capacity.
These changes have forced the Osborne agenda into the departments that he had viewed as a brake on growth – or at least on his ability to construct a compelling narrative about what the government was doing to get the economy expanding.
So we should be looking during this autumn/winter period at what this Osborne coup is delivering. We saw at the party conference thereassertion that there would be no backing away from Plan A, no glut of new tax cuts which couldn’t be funded (bad news for the air passenger duty campaign) and certainly no ‘mansion tax’.
But we might well see more supply-side measures, including the possibility that employees could cash in their employment rights for share allocations that would be exempt from capital gains tax, a tax regime that would encourage the shale-gas industry in the UK and, perhaps, short-term boosts to airport capacity in the south-east.
If these policies emerge, we will see that the Osborne allies are making their presence felt in formerly problematic departments.
Gareth Morgan is a political lobbyistand associate director with Cavendish Communications (www.cavendishpc.co.uk). He is an advisor to the Guild of Travel Management Companies (GTMC)