UK

Chancellor is pressing UKIP's buttons

  • 20 March 2014
  • From the section UK
  • comments
George Osborne delivers his Budget

George Osborne has been on a diet. It's clear from the suit jacket hanging off him that he's successfully lost weight, and his smile delivering the budget speech was the broadest indication that he really believes the austerity diet that he's put the country through is working too.

As ever with Mr Osborne he wasn't content just to reel off the figures detailing the economic recovery, he wanted to press a few political buttons.

So we got the initiatives for savers, a national Pensioners Bond delivering 4% interest, more flexibility for people choosing annuities and the new NISA ISAs.

Pensions expert Roz Altman took to Twitter to declare that Christmas had come early. She had got all she had ever asked for in one go.

Sharing a pint

But the biggest political button that the chancellor is pushing is a big purple one labelled UKIP.

The NISA ISA allows someone thinking about retirement with a spare £15,000 each year to get a decent tax break. Someone just like Nigel Farage and his growing band of supporters.

The South of England has a more elderly population than the country as a whole, and more middle and higher earners, often UKIP supporters.

Those earning less than £10,000 a year do not benefit at all from increasing the income tax allowance. There are up to 20% of people in that position in Northern regions, but with the high cost of living in London and the South there are less than 15%.

Though the Eastleigh by-election undoubtedly demonstrated that UKIP can draw in voters who've supported all parties in the past, and many who wouldn't have voted at all, it seems to me their appeal is still strongly towards an older age group, and often those with some cash to spare.

Those are the people you see out campaigning for the party in the south of England and talking up their chances in the pub.

Serious threat

If George Osborne was sharing a pint with Nigel Farage better pensions are just the sort of policy he'd suggest to catch his interest.

Assuming the chancellor wasn't on one of the fasting days of his 5:2 diet he might make the same pitch to the former Conservative MP, now UKIP deputy chairman, Neil Hamilton, or even the MEP Marta Andraesen who was elected for UKIP but who has now joined the Conservatives.

So whilst money to repair potholes and sea defences will decorate the budget cake, and the Liberal Democrats can celebrate success at raising income tax thresholds, the jam in the middle is a splodgy great dollop of purple to attract those voters who might be tempted to send the Conservatives a protest message in the local and European elections in May.

It shows how seriously Conservatives are taking that threat.