FleishmanHillard Insight Special – Budget 2015

George Osborne budget

Coining It In

Yesterday, the Treasury unveiled a significant redesign of the one pound coin, in a PR coup that saw the Chancellor himself telephone the Midlands teenager who had drawn the design. Not only was this great heart-warming stuff (come on, be kind), but it also gave Osborne an opportunity to promote the coin as “the most secure” in the world, as part of his bid to combat fraud. So, good news for teenagers from Walsall and bad news for forgers, but how will voters – in this age of authenticity and cynicism – treat Osborne’s final pre-election Budget? There’s no use tackling minted fraud if the policies behind the pounds are perceived to be equally as dubious.

Minted

So today’s Budget had to deliver on several fronts to ensure Osborne’s credibility and the possibility of a future Conservative majority. The first and most important was consistency.

This had to be a “business as usual” statement on the underlying policy of the last five years – austerity. This was very much the case. He confirmed that the policy would continue through the next Parliament, but added a sweetener that the end-game is now in sight (specifically, 2019) with the statement that the UK was “one more step from austerity to prosperity”.

However, while one more step for George Osborne is a full four years, this may feel more like one giant leap for an electorate who are yet to feel the benefits of economic recovery, something Labour will undoubtedly seize upon in the coming weeks. But what Osborne is saying is better the devil you know – we’ve gone this far, don’t change course now – and this will form one of his key messages during the General Election. The other aim was to show actual progress, and the Chancellor reeled off numerous positives suggesting that his stock of pound coins might not only be redesigned, but on the rise – including revised GDP forecasts.

Secondly, he needed to draw a sizeable dividing line between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, without embarrassing the nice chap sat next to him (Danny Alexander MP, the Lib Dem’s Treasury Minister). Talk this morning of “Two Budgets” is likely to be realized, as there were few pointers to yellow contributions in today’s speech, with the Chancellor heckled by a Labour MP:

“what about the Liberal Democrats?”

As political columnist and journalist Isabel Oakeshott exclusively told FleishmanHillard this afternoon,

“even if the direst predictions come true and the Lib Dems are left with just 20 MPs, that will still be far more than UKIP or the DUP can boast. They may yet play a key part in the composition of the next government”.

Cue LibDem busting announcements on North Sea oil taxation, a review of Inheritance Tax through the use of deeds of variation and cancelling the proposed increase in fuel duty with the catchy “Tories in Your Tank”. Cue also key Liberal Democrat Julian Huppert MP (Cambridge) tweeting immediately after the Budget:

“we’ll publish our alternative future perspective shortly”.

We hope Mr Alexander’s HM Treasury officials know about this.

Keep the Change

“Change we can believe in” was the last great political message from a leader-in-waiting in our time. Unfortunately, it was in America. Britain could be changing its Prime Minister in just 49 days’ time, so the third piece today had to be a message to the country about perceived Labour recklessness and instability.

With opinion polls suggesting that the Conservatives and Labour are neck-to-neck, the Tories sense that with Ed Miliband, the electorate might not want to keep the change. One major part of the Chancellor’s strategy for this was with his announcement on debt. As James Lyons, Deputy Political Editor at the Sunday Times exclusively told FleishmanHillard:

“Osborne sought to boost Conservative election prospects by slashing the £23bn budget surplus he planned to run by the end of the next Parliament to just £7bn, neutralising Labour claims that he would take public spending back to the level of the 1930s”.

Finally, Osborne will have had one eye on the potential eventuality of being back in Opposition and the opportunities this might bring. This statement was a self-assured tour de force, reminiscent of Gordon Brown when he was on top of his game, courting Prudence.

As FH London Head of Public Affairs Nick Williams says in PR Week today:

“In office, he has earned grudging respect for sticking to his guns and riding out the storm, with the makings of a vision for the longer-term. Look at the Northern Powerhouse idea, which takes Conservative-led regeneration/infrastructure regeneration into parts of the country where the Conservatives have not reached for 25 years”.

New Currency

Labour immediately responded by seizing on the fact that Osborne did not mention the NHS, with further attacks on the Government’s record on home building, taxation (citing 24 tax rises since 2010) and an attack on Osborne’s ambitions in the North of England by pointing out that it had been this Government that introduced 75% budget cuts to local Government in the North.

Responding to a Budget is a difficult task for even the best Opposition Leaders and he won’t be judged in the country for his performance today. That will be left for the TV studios later.

Interest Rise?

So how interested were the punters in the twittersphere? Our social media analytics experts analyzed all the tweets that commented in the UK on the Budget. They found that tweets were initially negative about the Conservatives, giving them a score of -54%. However, as the speech progressed, this turned into a very positive score of +58%, a huge turn around.

When Ed Miliband MP gave his response, sentiment was very much against him. He started with a core of -68%, and the sentiment towards him and Labour did not improve much as the speech went on, ending on -60%.

The Top Dollar

The coin the Chancellor unveiled yesterday is almost a metaphor for his rallying call today of “one United Kingdom, the Comeback Country”. It won due to its simple inclusion of symbols relating to the four corners of the United Kingdom. Whether he can take the whole country with him as he progresses his economic policies toward the Conservative Manifesto remains to be seen.

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You can download our FleishmanHillard Budget Insights Special, which includes the full list of announcements and complete analysis, here: FH Insight Special Budget 2015

For more information about our work, please contact Nick Williams, Head of Public Affairs & Corporate Communications, at nick.williams@fleishmaneurope.com