George’s Budget sweetener surprises backbenchers

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne delivers his Budget statement to the House of Commons. Ph

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne delivers his Budget statement to the House of Commons. Photo: PA Wire - Credit: PA

Tory backbenchers backed their man Osborne as he announced sweetener after sweetener.

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Business rate cuts for newsagents in Nuneaton, there was something for pubs in the Midlands (he missed a trick with alliteration there) and loot for Lowestoft.

So it was little surprise that his plans for a tax on sugar were met with near silence.

Gossipy backbenchers had been kept from the secret and were genuinely surprised as they listened studiously for the details of a plan they were not quite sure about.

Of course Osborne's plan is not a sugar tax.

It is not on all sugar but on sugary drinks. We were assured it was not a sales tax but a levy on the manufacturers and importers of these drinks.

So just weeks before Easter our Lindt Easter bunnies were saved from his rabbit out of the hat.

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Phew. Rural MPs found their voice again when he deftly took his audience back to euphoria announcing a continued fuel duty freeze.

It was a budget which put the next generation first, he told us.

'We will not burden our children and grandchildren. This is a Budget for the next generation,' he said time and again.

The previous generation obviously didn't teach him about not boasting.

The first half hour of his budget was a bizarre brag where he told the House of Commons how much better than everyone else in the world we are because while things are bad for us, they are not as bad as elsewhere.

And it took just 12 minutes to get to that subject never far from the politics of 2016.

He had found a backer, so he thought - the independent Office for Budget Responsibility.

'The OBR correctly stay out of the political debate and do not assess the long term costs and benefits of EU membership,' he said, feigning innocence.

But they do say this, and I quote them directly: 'a vote to leave in the forthcoming referendum could usher in an extended period of uncertainty regarding the precise terms of the UK's future relationship with the EU'.

Bingo, He had found something to spin in favour of the remain campaign. And in a nod to the backbenchers whose blood may have been boiling at his European Union politicking, he found an extra £20m for the 'enormously successful' Cathedral Repairs Fund.

We are a broad church he joked. Eurosceptics smiled wryly.

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