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Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:25 pm on 20th March 2014.

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Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer 1:25 pm, 20th March 2014

It was very interesting because we scoured the Chancellor's speech and all the documents for one mention of the cost of living and living standards, and there were none at all—none! Conservative Members say that we are not talking about what is in the Budget, but they are not talking about what is undermining the living standards of people up and down our country.

Last year, the hon. Lady said:

“If we do not believe that the poorest are best served by our policies, we might as well give up and go and do something else.”—[Hansard, 20 March 2013; Vol. 560, c. 1023.]

I am afraid we are going to ensure that she has to give up and do something else.

It has been hard to understand what has been going on, but it is starting to make sense given all the Chancellor’s rebranding of recent weeks and months: the new less foppish hairstyle, the 5:2 diet, the new estuary accent, even photo opportunities down a coal mine—all part of his leadership business; the new working-class hero, not Gideon but George these days.

This weekend the Education Secretary took a further step in the Osborne rebranding. He said that it is “ridiculous”, and “preposterous” that Downing street is governed by a tight clutch of Etonians, and that that has got to change—we say “Hear, hear” to that, Mr Deputy Speaker. However, we all know what he was really trying to say through the pages of the Financial Times. He was saying, “Boris is a toff because he went to Eton, but George is a pleb because he only went to St Paul’s.” The Tory party is having a class war with itself. An Etonian elite has grabbed hold of the commanding heights of the economy, opposing the masses of Tories who went to lesser public schools. Old boys from Harrow and St Pauls, throw off your chains. What are they going to call themselves? The Bullingdon Bolsheviks? The Trust Fund Trots? Posh boys of the world unite?

In all seriousness, does the Chancellor really think that he can stand up for the interests of the energy companies, the hedge funds, Tory donors, deliver a massive tax cut to people earning more than £150,000, and then claim to be on the side of hard-working families—the party of the workers—just because he did not go to Eton? Posing as the posh boy proletarian will not wash when his own Budget ad campaign refers to working people as “them”, and when he will be remembered only as the Chancellor who cut taxes for millionaires while everyone else was worse off.

I know that many hon. Members wish to speak so I will conclude my remarks.