George Osborne has twice said or done something very popular which has changed the national mood.
His Conservative Manifesto promise to take most people out of paying Inheritance Tax was very popular when he first proposed a new £1m threshold before having to pay. Labour gave up any idea of an early election on the back of it. They then increased the tax free allowances for IHT to show they had understood the public mood, taking it up to £650,000 for a married couple. The Lib Dems did not allow the full increase in threshold the Conservatives had offered in 2010 when joining the Coalition.
Last week his decision to let people with defined contribution pension schemes enjoy the freedom to decide when to take their money out in retirement was another one of those opinion changing moments. Ever since the announcement the Conservatives have gone up in the polls, the Chancellor has become more popular and Labour after early misgivings have decided to back the policy.
We should ask why is it that these two things amidst the thousands of decisions that governemnts make should be the ones that attract so much attention and favourable comment?
The first point to grasp is it shows people are not primarily motivated by jealousy. Few people will benefit from the pension changes – around 400,000 immediately out of an electorate of more than 40 million. Most people are in defined benefit schemes or do not have an employer pension fund. A minority have significant sums in a defined contribution scheme which will ultimately benefit.
Similarly, when Mr Osborne proposed a major increase in the Inheritance Tax threshold most people were not in the bracket where they were facing any IHT bill at all.
What both reactions have in common is the view that the state does not have a right to confiscate your money after a lifetime of hard work and prudence, nor does it have the right to tell you how and when you might spend it. Many people who do not stand to inherit a decent sum from their parents do not want to stand in the way of those who do. Others think that given time maybe they will stand to inherit, and do not fancy the idea of a large tax charge on their parents’ effots. Similarly people may not have much or any pension savings yet, but do not rule out one day having some and then wish to be free to use them as they see fit.
It has been good to see the instant reaction against the nanny state when some dared to argue that people should not be free to draw down their savings in retirement when they wish. The public mood thinks government interferes too much and charges us too much for what it does and what it can offer. The two popular statements by Mr Osborne show there are lots of people in our country who want the state to know that many of us wish to be responsible with our money and want the state to interfere less.