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George Osborne Delivers a Bold Budget for His Aspiration Nation

20/03/2013 16:21 GMT | Updated 20/05/2013 10:12 BST

Much of the commentary leading-up to this budget, George Osborne's fourth, suggested there would be little in terms of new, substantive policy announcements. But the reality didn't quite follow the script.

The Chancellor announced a range of bold policy measures. Bringing forward the increase in the personal tax-free allowance to £10k; cutting National Insurance bills for businesses and charities by £2k; cancelling the fuel duty increase; an additional £3bn/year of infrastructure investment; a swathe of measures to promote new start-up businesses, including extending the Capital Gains Tax holiday for investments in Seed Enterprise Investment Schemes; and a number of big announcements on housing, including government guarantees for £130bn of mortgages and extending the 'Right to Buy' scheme up to £100k in London.

And the core narrative around these specifics centred on an 'Aspiration Nation', a tag that beautifully compliments the 'strivers', so often put at the centre of Conservative discourse over the last six months.

Ultimately, and why that tag works so well, these policy announcements were as much for the whole as they were for the individual; a fight back against One Nation, perhaps.

Put simply, the Chancellor articulated that we are a collection of individual strivers (see tax-free allowance, housing and mortgage reforms, fuel and beer duty scrapping) in an aspiration nation (see infrastructure investment, support for business and preserving the education budget).

These are all big, bold measures, many of which will have little practical impact between now and the next General Election. It's now about more than that. The Conservatives know time is running out, and today they have continued their 2015 campaign by putting the wheels in motion on a range of popular policies that will bear fruit in the next Parliament, if only the electorate kindly puts Messieurs Cameron and Osborne back into Downing Street.

Ed Miliband's response today was one of the more disappointing of recent times. His 15 minute tirade mentioned not one single policy contained within the budget itself, instead focusing on personal attacks against the Conservative front-bench. Lowest common denominator politics are very much alive and kicking in Labour HQ.

And it was a particular shame given the range of announcements the Labour Leader had to get his teeth into.

On infrastructure investment, for example, he has completely missed an opportunity to ask the question why 'government to announce more infrastructure spend to drive growth' has been an ever-present pre-budget leak since the coalition came to power, yet seemingly little has actually been achieved.

On corporation tax, he could have attacked - rightly or wrongly - a stereotypically business-friendly Conservative government.

Or in the widest possible sense, he could have gone after the apparent lack of overtly pro-growth initiatives.

But maybe the reason for Mr Miliband's response is obvious: he agrees with the vast majority of the Chancellor's speech. From maintaining the NHS budget, scrapping the fuel duty, investing in housing, and helping the poorest through the early adoption of the tax-free allowance, in many respects this could have been a Labour Chancellor at the dispatch box.

But it wasn't. And it is his inability to articulate a clear alternative - particularly in light of the increased capital expenditure announced today - that should be real cause for concern for the Labour Leader.

What a difference a year makes. From #grannytax and #omnishambles to #AspirationNation and widespread support from the commentariat, George Osborne should give himself a pat on the back before the elephant in the room that is the eurozone recaptures his attention in the morning.