George Osborne with his special adviser Rupert Harrison at No. 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The Budget revealed Osborne's 35% strategy

Rather than seeking to craft a new electoral coalition, the Tories are just managing decline.

Under both Gordon Brown and George Osborne, the Budget has become the ultimate expression of the electoral priorities of a government. George Osborne’s giveaways to wealthy pensioners are truly telling of what the Chancellor worries about for 2015. The answer, it seems, is the Tory base.

All parties face a fundamental choice at elections between managing decline by trying to cling on to as much of their existing vote as possible or shaping a new electoral coalition. New Labour successfully won re-election twice by managing its declining vote share, whilst President Obama created a new electoral coalition between 2008 and 2012.

The big choice for Conservative strategy was whether to reassemble their 2010 coalition of support and craft a policy offer to bring them back, or to look to a new pool of voters, particularly Labour-inclined blue collar voters who either voted Labour in 2010 or sat out the election whilst still self-identifying as Labour. These are Robert Halfon’s voters. They are the voters that Jon Cruddas, Labour’s blue collar brahmin, was brought in to capture. Their opinions might be considered conservative on matters of immigration or welfare but progressive on public services or bashing the banks.

Blue collar voters hold the key to breaking out of the mid-30s poll ratings that currently make for the ceiling of Tory support or the floor of Labour’s. By increasing turnout amongst this group, Labour can reach the 40s. Equally, by flipping Labour’s working class support, the Tories could head for a majority. Beyond bread (beer) and circuses (bingo), the adoption of Halfonism would have been a truly dangerous strategic move by Osborne against Labour. Truly radical "Little Guy" Conservatism comes with a blend of Jesse Norman’s attacks on crony capitalism, Boris Johnson’s verve for housebuilding and Robert Halfon’s embrace of trade unionism.

If you want to know what Labour truly fears then there it is.

But "Beer and Bingo" is at best superficial engagement with blue collar voters falsely premised on the belief that they can be bought off with a good night out, rather than see their deeply held concerns about schools, hospitals, wages and housing addressed. What’s more, it risks reinforcing the perception that many voters have with the Tory high command as out of touch and lacking empathy.

Osborne has instead sought to manage decline. By seeking to win back Conservative-minded pensioners, Osborne aims only to bring Tory poll numbers out of the low 30s and into the mid-30s. He seeks to replay 2010. As Mike Smithson of Political Betting noted, some 58 per cent of UKIP supporters are over-55 and the vast majority of them are Tory 2010 voters.

Thus the Budget will produce more than a sugar high for Tory poll ratings. It should lock in a 2-3 per cent increase at a cost to UKIP that lasts through 2015. But it comes at the cost of the other more interesting, and potentially more rewarding, option: the blue collar appeal. Beer and bingo were crumbs from the table. Slashing income tax, building (as well as selling) council houses and raising the minimum wage to £7 was the alternative.

But Osborne made his choice and the Tory ceiling of the mid-30s is set for next year - and with it their last hopes for a majority.

Marcus Roberts is deputy general secretary of the Fabian Society

Marcus Roberts is an executive project director at YouGov. 

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The most terrifying thing about Donald Trump's speech? What he didn't say

No politician uses official speeches to put across their most controversial ideas. But Donald Trump's are not hard to find. 

As Donald Trump took the podium on a cold Washington day to deliver his inauguration speech, the world held its breath. Viewers hunched over televisions or internet streaming services watched Trump mouth “thank you” to the camera, no doubt wondering how he could possibly live up to his deranged late-night Twitter persona. In newsrooms across America, reporters unsure when they might next get access to a president who seems to delight in denying them the right to ask questions got ready to parse his words for any clue as to what was to come. Some, deciding they couldn’t bear to watch, studiously busied themselves with other things.

But when the moment came, Trump’s speech was uncharacteristically professional – at least compared to his previous performances. The fractured, repetitive grammar that marks many of his off-the-cuff statements was missing, and so, too, were most of his most controversial policy ideas.

Trump told the crowd that his presidency would “determine the course of America, and the world, for many, many years to come” before expressing his gratefulness to President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama for their “gracious aid” during the transition. “They have been magnificent," Trump said, before leading applause of thanks from the crowd.

If this opening was innocent enough, however, it all changed in the next breath. The new president moved quickly to the “historic movement”, “the likes of which the world has never seen before”, that elected him President. Following the small-state rhetoric of his campaign, Trump promised to take power from the “establishment” and restore it to the American people. “This moment," he told them, “Is your moment. It belongs to you.”

A good deal of the speech was given over to re-iterating his nationalist positions while also making repeated references to the key issues – “Islamic terrorism” and families – that remain points of commonality within the fractured Republican GOP.

The loss of business to overseas producers was blamed for “destroying our jobs”. “Protection," Trump said, “Will lead to great strength." He promised to end what he called the “American carnage” caused by drugs and crime.

“From this day forward," Trump said, “It’s going to be only America first."

There was plenty in the speech, then, that should worry viewers, particularly if you read Trump’s promises to make America “unstoppable” so it can “win” again in light of his recent tweets about China

But it was the things Trump didn't mention that should worry us most. Trump, we know, doesn’t use official channels to communicate his most troubling ideas. From bizarre television interviews to his upsetting and offensive rallies and, of course, the infamous tweets, the new President is inclined to fling his thoughts into the world as and when he sees fit, not on the occasions when he’s required to address the nation (see, also, his anodyne acceptance speech).

It’s important to remember that Trump’s administration wins when it makes itself seem as innocent as possible. During the speech, I was reminded of my colleague Helen Lewis’ recent thoughts on the “gaslighter-in-chief”, reflecting on Trump’s lying claim that he never mocked a disabled reporter. “Now we can see," she wrote, “A false narrative being built in real time, tweet by tweet."

Saying things that are untrue isn’t the only way of lying – it is also possible to lie by omission.

There has been much discussion as to whether Trump will soften after he becomes president. All the things this speech did not mention were designed to keep us guessing about many of the President’s most controversial promises.

Trump did not mention his proposed ban on Muslims entering the US, nor the wall he insists he will erect between America and Mexico (which he maintains the latter will pay for). He maintained a polite coolness towards the former President and avoiding any discussion of alleged cuts to anti-domestic violence programs and abortion regulations. Why? Trump wanted to leave viewers unsure as to whether he actually intends to carry through on his election rhetoric.

To understand what Trump is capable of, therefore, it is best not to look to his speeches on a global stage, but to the promises he makes to his allies. So when the President’s personal website still insists he will build a wall, end catch-and-release, suspend immigration from “terror-prone regions” “where adequate screening cannot occur”; when, despite saying he understands only 3 per cent of Planned Parenthood services relate to abortion and that “millions” of women are helped by their cancer screening, he plans to defund Planned Parenthood; when the president says he will remove gun-free zones around schools “on his first day” - believe him.  

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland