What is interesting, however, is the shift Osborne has made. Remember, the Tories didn't win the election from the centre. It was won from the right. Scaremongering about the SNP and nuclear disarmament, and foreign workers and social security recipients won them their undeserved majority. Matters weren't helped by the incoherence of Labour's alternative, but we'll leave that alone for now. However, the Tories were elected on the basis of an unworkable programme. In the panic less than a month from polling day, they trailed £28bn of unfunded spending pledges, as well as pledging to leave working tax credits well alone. Simultaneously, theirs was a policy platform counter-productive to the interests of British business as a whole, and therefore inimical to their own long-term interests as a party. Instead, we had a peculiar determination of economics by politics as the machinery of state pursued policies inimical to British capitalism - such as visa restrictions on foreign students studying in the UK, the EU referendum pledge, and, of course, continued austerity - so long as the immediate electoral interests of the Tory party were served. Osborne's speech, however, is a marked turn away from this. There's still the benefit bashing and privatisation mania you would expect, but under it all something else is stirring.
Historians of Soviet Russia know that in Stalin's rise to power, he offed Trotsky and the Left Opposition by playing to the centre and the right, criticising the Trotskyists' plans to reign in the market, the rich peasants, and bureaucrats grown fat off the back of both, and their plans to rapidly industrialise the USSR. When that was done and dusted, Stalin changed tack and attacked the marketeers, the kulaks, and those - like Bukharin - who favoured some private enterprise in the economy. And to boot the industrial plan was nicked as well, thought without the Trotskyists' insistence on worker management. Osborne is no Stalin. He lacks his cunning, for starters. However, the Tories have performed a similar move. Peddle nonsense and fear that Ed Miliband's concerns about inequality and advocacy of a proper industrial plan were 1930s retro communism replete with tractor production figures and an Outer Hebridean gulag before the election. And afterwards, start appropriating the plan as well as the rhetoric. Hence we have Michael "The Red" Gove attacking the undeserving rich. "Brother" Robert Halfon seeking to organise the workers, and now the comrade chancellor announcing the use of pension funds in infrastructure projects (on top of the Adonis vehicle) and a pledge to make the 'Northern Powerhouse' something more than meaningless waffle. It's all power to the councils too, as local authorities can look forward to more autonomy - albeit at the price of further huge cuts to the local government grant as the majority of councils are forced to get by more and more on the thin gruel of business rates and council tax.
Nevertheless, it was a good speech. Not in terms of its political content. Osborne's switch still means working people and those getting by with the support of public services are in for another kicking. There was plenty of praise for the worker of Tory myth, but nothing for workers losing their jobs in Redcar - you know, real, breathing workers doing tough industrial jobs. Yet, as a piece of positioning, it is a grab for the centre - a consummation of a 'win from the right but govern from the centre' strategy to prepare Osborne's graduation to Number 10. Looked at askance, as most people tend to do, this is superficially a programme for folk who are doing okay. It was about reassuring those frightened into voting Tory that all is safe and well. Them at the margins are the ones who we're going to sort out, not you, not the decent people who do the decent thing. Who on the face of it can disagree with the infrastructure announcement? More local autonomy? More money for people in work? The fly in Osborne's economic ointment has 'tax credits' written all over it. People might agree that social security shouldn't subsidise low pay - another half-inched Milibandism - but most would be queasy seeing millions of low paid workers lose out with scant compensation from the increased minimum wage and higher tax threshold. When even The Sun are having a go, events might throw Osborne's careful political balance out of kilter. The second bit is direction of travel. We know where the Tories are going - they want to build things (the phrase, "we are the builders" appeared no less than several thousand times and, again, borrowing from Stalin, Labour are "the wreckers") and turn Britain into a Germany/Scandinavia with high wages, but without the high taxes. Overall, what Osborne has outlined today is a plan that is nowhere near as counterproductive as their previous orientation.
Interestingly, Osborne's speech is similar to his opposite number's, last week. Both outlined plans for Britain. Both emphasised fiscal responsibility. And, fundamentally, both were aimed for wider audiences. Osborne's to assure that the Tories are no longer nasty. McDonnell's to assure that full communism is not among his plans. The problem is that the chancellor's speech shows he's quite clear that the unwarranted reputation the Tories have for economic competence is something he intends to keep hold of. Taking that back and convincing those who find Osborne's comments plausible and believable is going to be a tough task.