George Osborne at the Conservative conference in Manchester last year. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Does Osborne's Budget herald a raid on pensioner benefits?

The Chancellor may have provided the Tories with the protective cover they need to limit universal pensioner benefits.

George Osborne's Budget was aimed squarely at winning over the pensioner voters who have deserted the Conservatives for UKIP and who are so crucial to the party's chances of victory (they vote more than any other age group). But could yesterday's giveaway be the prelude to a raid? While the Tories have pledged to maintain the triple-lock on the state pension (so that it rises in line with inflation, earnings, or 2.5%, whichever is highest) throughout the next parliament and have excluded it from the new cap on welfare spending, they have yet to make a similar commitment to protect other benefits for the over-65s. 

In 2010, under pressure from Labour, David Cameron vowed to ring-fence universal pensioner benefits such as Winter Fuel Payments, free bus passes and free TV licences (a promise he has kept), but many Tories (most notably Iain Duncan Smith) have urged him to avoid repeating this pledge. They argue that protecting these perks for all, including the wealthy, is indefensible when the deficit is still so large (at £108bn) and spending on the young and other groups is being cut so hard. 

With both Labour and the Lib Dems now arguing for some degree of means-testing, the path is clear for the Conservatives to revise their stance without fear of reprisal. It is significant that, unlike the state pension, all pensioner benefits have been included in the welfare cap, creating the possibility of them being cut in order to stick to the new limit. Osborne's Budget may well have been aimed at providing the Tories with the protective cover they need to execute a U-turn. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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No, David Cameron’s speech was not “left wing”

Come on, guys.

There is a strange journalistic phenomenon that occurs when a party leader makes a speech. It is a blend of groupthink, relief, utter certainty, and online backslapping. It happened particularly quickly after David Cameron’s speech to Tory party conference today. A few pundits decided that – because he mentioned, like, diversity and social mobility – this was a centre-left speech. A leftwing speech, even. Or at least a clear grab for the liberal centre ground. And so that’s what everyone now believes. The analysis is decided. The commentary is written. Thank God for that.

Really? It’s quite easy, even as one of those nasty, wicked Tories, to mention that you actually don’t much like racism, and point out that you’d quite like poor children to get jobs, without moving onto Labour's "territory". Which normal person is in favour of discriminating against someone on the basis of race, or blocking opportunity on the basis of class? Of course he’s against that. He’s a politician operating in a liberal democracy. And this isn’t Ukip conference.

Looking at the whole package, it was actually quite a rightwing speech. It was a paean to defence – championing drones, protecting Britain from the evils of the world, and getting all excited about “launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history”.

It was a festival of flagwaving guff about the British “character”, a celebration of shoehorning our history chronologically onto the curriculum, looking towards a “Greater Britain”, asking for more “national pride”. There was even a Bake Off pun.

He also deployed the illiberal device of inculcating a divide-and-rule fear of the “shadow of extremism – hanging over every single one of us”, informing us that children in UK madrassas are having their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”, and saying Britain shouldn’t be “overwhelmed” with refugees, before quickly changing the subject to ousting Assad. How unashamedly centrist, of you, Mr Prime Minister.

Benefit cuts and a reduction of tax credits will mean the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome” will be just that – with the outcome pretty bleak for those who end up losing any opportunity that comes with state support. And his excitement about diversity in his cabinet rings a little hollow the day following a tubthumping anti-immigration speech from his Home Secretary.

If this year's Tory conference wins the party votes, it’ll be because of its conservative commitment – not lefty love bombing.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.