Landale's View: George Osborne's key arguments
Do not for a moment think this is it. George Osborne is only clearing his throat. This may be an historic day when a universal benefit bit the dust. But there will be other days like this in coming weeks when similar cuts are made that will change fundamentally the way government spends our money.
The chancellor's aim is to prepare us for the spending review that he will unveil on 20 October. He wants to create what political insiders call "a narrative" for his cuts, a story that explains why and where and how deeply he is swinging his axe.
In his speech to his party's conference, Mr Osborne began telling this story. Here are his key arguments:
1. It's not the government's fault: Mr Osborne was at pains to blame Labour for the deficit. He is cutting spending to rescue the economy from Labour's legacy. He makes but the barest mention of the 2008 financial crisis, referring to it obliquely as "when the storms came".
2. Labour would make it worse: Any delay in cutting the deficit would put the recovery at risk. Delay would mean paying more later. He does not address his critics' argument that cutting spending too fast could risk a double dip recession.
3. We are cutting in the national interest: The government is tackling the deficit in the same spirit that it formed the coalition in May. We are, as Mr Osborne never ceases to remind us, all in this together.
4. Cuts will help the poor in the long run: This sounds counter-intuitive but Mr Osborne's argument goes like this: the government currently spends £120m a day in interest payments to service the deficit. If you get rid of the deficit, you can start spending that money on schools and hospitals and the least well off in society. Nota bene Ed Miliband.
5. We are not cutting everything: The NHS will remain - partially - protected. The Tories promised not to touch it four years ago and they do not want to be accused of breaking promises. There will be enough of that over his child benefit cut.
6. We are cutting for a better tomorrow: Mr Osborne is casting himself as the Judy Garland of British politics, promising that somewhere over the rainbow (he does, I admit, use the word horizon but the point stands) there's a Britain where skies are blue. Just over the horizon, he promises, lies the Britain we are trying to build, a hopeful, united, prosperous country, governed with imagination, fairness and courage, a Britain that pays its way. Luckily he restrains himself and does not promise a Britain where troubles melt like lemon drops, away above the chimney tops...
7. Few will escape the axe (we are all in this together): This is why Mr Osborne announced a child benefit cut for the better off on the same day as a maximum cap on household benefits claims. Middle class higher rate taxpayers will take a hit, as will jobless households claiming a huge whack of housing benefit. Key Osborne fact: the government spends more on housing benefit than it does on the police.
8. We don't just cut, we do growth too: What little cash we have got left we will spend on transport schemes, medical research and communications' networks. There'll be a green investment bank and stuff like that.
9. Vince Cable and I get on better than the Milibands: This might be a gag but I am not sure this is not saying much in current circumstances.