George Osborne crossed dressed and declared himself a one nation chancellor in both the headline measures of his budget and in its details. Legislation for a living wage was intended as the closing showstopper and abolishing permanent non-dom status stole the policy with which Labour appeared to have most momentum in the general election. Training levies are another idea with Labour pedigree.
Noting that the Commission for Employment and Skills have previously reported that a third of employers spend nothing on training, Kevin Meagher argued, in a book that Labour Uncut published at 2013 Labour party conference, ‘the only remedy which is fair to all employers is a compulsory skills levy of some sort’. Today Osborne introduced such a levy for apprenticeships at large firms.
The last budget that Osborne delivered during a Labour leadership election disorientated the party throughout the last parliament. This budget promises that no year in this parliament will have cuts as deep as the two that immediately followed that 2010 budget. Osborne has committed less to cuts and more to absorbing ideas with Labour themes, in a way that may be even more of a threat to Labour than the 2010 vintage. It certainly poses a new kind of challenge.
In her response, Harriet Harman was quick to commit the party to being ‘a grown up and constructive opposition’. Being magnanimous enough to support the government when they deserve support is a precondition of moving from this status to government. The real art, though, will be in finding and credibly articulating sufficient points of difference that Labour is a more compelling alternative.