Welcome to politics.co.uk’s As-It-Happens page. Here you can keep up to date with major parliamentary debates, press conferences or news events in real time. Just hit refresh on your browser to see the latest development.
And that’s the shadow chancellor off for his lunch. He soaks up the applause as the Tories lap up his speech.
Now, it seems, we’re wrapping up. There’s some stirring rhetoric about the “tough task” that lies ahead. And he underscores the message that while there are no tax cuts promised upfront, there is the possibility of them under the Tories. “We are idealists who never have our head in the sand. join us on this journey.”
And then we’re back to another prolonged attack on Gordon Brown. It’s a lengthy tirade which is being eaten up by the conference delegates. “He’s going to have to confront his mistakes. stop dithering. and listen to the hardworking people of this country,” he continues. And he attempts to turn the prime minister’s novice line back at him: “I believe in apprenticeships but this is no time for a novice.”
Mr Osborne follows it up with another announcement – the next Conservative government will freeze council tax for at least two years. This is a big one which meets with approval, unsurprisingly. “Instead of council tax bills that rise year after year under Labour, Conservatives will not leave people to leave with the credit crunch alone. We will not walk on by. We will help families cope with this crisis.”
And now a policy: the Tories will scrap the golden rules governing public finances. “The golden rule is this: never trust a Labour government with the public finances.” Instead Mr Osborne says the Conservative goal will be to balance the Budget and “put sound money first”. To ensure this promise will be met, he says, an Office of Budget Responsibility will be set up to “stand in judgment over our commitments and hold us to our promises”. “It will let the whole country know if we are trying to dodge out of them.” Rapturous applause follows.
A neat little point scored there for his 10p council tax jibe, describing the £2.7 billion spent on “losing the Crewe and Nantwich by-election – which is £2.7 billion more than it cost us”. “Gordon Brown is spending money like there’s no tomorrow. Well, for him maybe there is no tomorrow. But for us there is.”
There’s something slightly strange about taking the sole credit for bipartisan support. But no matter, as we move on to another excellent phrase: “Government has to live within its means.” It’s a shame the awkward pause for applause ruins it a bit.
“We will do what it takes to preserve the stability of the financial system,” he says. That mirrors Gordon Brown’s “whatever it takes” – but, of course, doesn’t go quite as far. And in a fairly unsubtle bit of rhetoric about fairness he pivots on to the “poorest people in our society”.
One thing’s for certain, he makes clear: the Tories are not going to go blindly after the City. The Conservatives like the “drive and enterprise” of the business world, it turns out. But he adds: “If you take risks, you must bear the cost. Be prepared to lose it when you make mistakes.” His biggest round of applause yet for that one.
Commenting on Bradford and Bingley, which was nationalised today, he said: “You don’t have to leave the taxpayer exposed to a multibillion pound bill. for a year the government dithered and delayed and once again it is the taxpayer in the last resort that is left carrying in the can.”
A comprehensive plan for economic responsibility should do the trick: “a plan to end Britain’s dependency on debt”, he trumpets, adding: “We will make sure this mess never happens again.”
The searing comments continue as he demolishes Labour’s economic record. “We never stopped to think what would happen when those engines have stalled,” he says. The party is over,” he says, coming dangerously close to mixing his metaphors. A financial hurricane has struck.
Despite the Tories being the ones deregulating the market, Mr Osborne is appalled by the debt culture which has been allowed to develop since John Major left Downing Street. “Instead of trying to rein in the boom, Gordon Brown led by example,” he says, accusing the prime minister of hiding debts “where the public can’t find them”. He’s seeking to stick a “spend, spend, spend” tag on Labour – this is old-school politics.
Now we’re on to the serious stuff. He’s qualifying and balancing: free market versus the government’s need to intervene is tricky after all, but he skips it by moving straight on to the “age of responsibility”. And there’s a laugh in there when he says “we’ve all had quite enough of the Gordon Brown experience”.
Mr Osborne is skipping his t’s in a way which hasn’t been done so flagrantly in British politics since Tony Blair’s departure from the political stage. The Conservatives are up to it, he says, but it’s something to be demonstrated through the conference itself.
And here he is, after the zany graphics get delegates excited. Mr Osborne kicks off with a snappy soundbite: “This government is all crisis and no confidence.” Not rapturous applause to start off with, but doubtless he’s just warming them up.
Shadow chancellor George Osborne is about to speak at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham.
– – – – – – –
Ahead of the speech, unveiling some of the policies being announced today, he said: “It’s time to bring an end to Gordon Brown’s age of irresponsibility.
“Conservatives will unveil a radical long term economic plan to bring financial responsibility to our economy and fiscal responsibility to our government.”
Under the policies, Mr Brown’s fiscal rules would be scrapped and replaced by a mandate specifying falling debt as a percentage of GDP.
A new Office for Budget Responsibility would be created to independently assess the sustainability of public finances and audit the nation’s debt, including off-sheet liabilities.
The Bank of England would be given a far greater role in the system of financial regulation, along with the FSA and the Treasury. It will be asked to take a broader role in managing debt in the banking system by maintaining communications with the FSA and setting out its assessments of market-wide risk.
The FSA will also receive extra resources, with an increase in the amount of funds and skilled secondees financial institutions have to contribute.
To prevent another run on a bank, the Tories are also proposing a system of deposit insurance for savers for the first £50,000 of deposits, to be paid out within a week. Mr Osborne says this will restore consumer confidence in the banking system.
Today’s speech marks the first Conservative attempt to rein back the economic agenda from Labour following an unsteady response to the current financial chaos.
politics.co.uk will be covering Mr Osborne’s speech as-it-happens from around midday.