Boris Johnson’s bet may pay off. The former mayor of London led the campaign for Britain to exit the European Union and is now the favorite to replace David Cameron as prime minister.
But he’s no shoo-in for the position. Around half the parliamentary party supported Cameron and his bid for Britain to remain in the EU. They may not be ready to forgive Johnson for so passionately making the opposite case and there are doubts about just much he really wanted Britain to leave.
This is the same man who once said, “I am the only British politician who will admit to being pro-immigration.” The same man who once supported Turkish membership of the EU. The man who can always be counted on to argue for lower taxes, fewer regulations and less welfare. Those are not exactly the priorities of the traditionalist right wing he chose to affiliate himself with.
Johnson was something of a libertarian before he pretended to be a reactionary. The reactionary wing of the Conservative Party may remember. Especially now that the one thing that always trumped everything else to their minds — Europe — is no longer going to be an issue.
Britain’s chancellor, George Osborne, kept his budget firmly in the center of British politics on Wednesday when he unveiled a combination of tax and spending policies that should satisfy either side.
To the delight of his Conservative backers, Osborne announced a fall in capital gains tax — which he raised in his very first austerity budget — from 28 to 20 percent and a reduction in corporate tax from 20 to 17 percent by 2020.
“Britain is blazing a trail,” he said. “Let the rest of the world catch up.”
Smalltime entrepreneurs will also benefit from a tax break worth up to £2,000 per year for income from goods sold on eBay and rooms rented out via Airbnb.
But property owners are set to lose out. Landlords will face a 3-percent stamp duty surcharge when they buy rental properties. Osborne specifically rejected proposals to exempt big investors. Read more
Britain’s George Osborne backed away from a controversial plan to cut tax credits on Wednesday when he unveiled the first purely Conservative Party budget in twenty years.
The House of Lords last month voted down his proposal to cut tax credits, which would have saved the government some £4 billion in annual spending but also left low-income families up to £1,000 per year worse off.
Extra borrowing will make up the shortfall. Read more
Osborne May Increasingly Define Conservative Agenda
British prime minister David Cameron’s surprise victory in May’s general election has made it more likely that his like-minded chancellor and deputy, George Osborne, will succeed him as Conservative Party leader before the next election, due in 2020.
But Osborne needs to be more than the candidate of continuity to triumph in an internal leadership election that is likely to pit him against London mayor Boris Johnson or Home Secretary Theresa May, both of whom are seen as more right-wing. Read more
Osborne Urges Conservatives to Stay Centrist Course
George Osborne rejected on Sunday the possibility of shifting Britain’s ruling Conservative Party to the right if Labour elects the far-left Jeremy Corbyn as its leader this weekend, saying it needs to occupy the center ground Labour has abandoned.
In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr, Osborne, who is seen as a likely successor to Prime Minister David Cameron, argued that the Conservatives have a “big responsibility to represent the working people of Britain on the center ground of British politics and to offer support and a home for people who don’t want a Labour Party that is far off to the left.”
He denied that the fiscal consolidation effort over which he has presided as chancellor most hurt the poor who might otherwise vote Labour. “The people who suffer most when the economy fails are the poorest,” he said.
Like Cameron, Osborne may be more liberal than conservative and is the face of the “modernization” project that moderated the Tories’ image and rhetoric and helped them win their first parliamentary majority in twenty years in May’s general election.
Part of their strategy is rebranding the Conservative Party, once seen as the home of the privileged, as the party of workers.
On Marr, Osborne argued that his policy in the last five years — when he ruled in coalition with the centrist Liberal Democrats — had benefited working Britons.
Because of the work we’ve done over the last five years, people how were unemployed have got jobs, the wages are going up, we’re now introducing a national living wage and we’re going to have a welfare system that supports people in need but is sustainable and can be afforded and is, by the way, fair to the people who pay for it: the working people of this country.
In July, Osborne outflanked Labour from the left by introducing a £9 hourly minimum wage, £2.50 higher than it is now. At the same time, he lowered taxes for businesses, betting they won’t be forced to lay off workers.
The Conservatives have also repeatedly raised the income tax threshold, taking the lowest paid out of tax.
But Osborne also announced an additional £35 billion in welfare savings this summer that are bound to affect many at the bottom of the wage scale. Among the measures are a freeze in most working-age benefits and disqualifying Britons under the age of 21 from housing subsidies.
The Financial Times‘ Janan Ganesh argued at the time that the spending plans reflected Osborne’s ambition to transform the individual’s relationship with the state.
Osborne wants to leave behind a country whose citizens, compared with 2010, are less likely to be employed by the state and to rely on fiscal transfers for part of their income.
Politico recently called him “the most powerful man in Britain” and said the Conservatives’ victory in May vindicated the Cameron-Osborne plan, raising the chances that the latter will succeed his boss if — as expected — he steps down before the 2020 election.
Other likely contenders for the leadership are outgoing London mayor Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Theresa May. Johnson is a social liberal like Osborne but possibly more Euroskeptic. May is considered the favorite of the more reactionary wing of the party.
Matthew d’Ancona, a liberal Conservative, has argued in The Guardian that none of them are in a rush. “They have a common interest in showing the selectorate — their fellow Tory MPs and the party membership — what they can do in a Conservative-only government,” he argues.
Johnson has to establish himself afresh as more than a charisma-generator. Osborne, meanwhile, needs time to complete his fiscal mission and to make sure that he is personally identified with the more ambitious components of the government’s strategy — especially the national living wage.