“Pensions and savings joy for all” (Daily Express); “Pension power to the people” (Daily Mail); “You have earned it, you have saved it” (Daily Telegraph); “Osborne helps the aged” (The Independent); “The savings revolution” (The Times); and “Pensions revolution as Osborne woos the solve-haired and savers” (Financial Times).
The message in the more obscure Metro headline also hails the budget: “If the pub landlord did budgets”. And the Sun‘s take is wholly adulatory: “A budget for Sun readers: WIN-GO!” By contrast, The Guardian seizes on the political ramifications: “Vote blue, go grey.”
Although the Daily Mirror splashes on the latest developments in the Madeleine McCann story, its main budget headline inside is critical, if querulous: “Pensions potty?” The Daily Star, also splashing on the McCann, joins in the applause with “Cheers George.”
The editorials are similarly delighted with Osborne’s initiative. The Telegraph praises the chancellor for the budget surprise: “the most far-reaching reform of the savings regime for nearly a century”.
People are to be treated as grown-ups by letting them “decide what to do with the money they have accumulated in their pension pots… This enlightened move marks a decisive break with the patronising instincts of the state.”
Then the Telegraph notes the political effect:
The Budget has given the fractious Conservatives a standard to rally round. If they can keep their nerve and discipline, Mr Osborne has at last opened a way for them to go to the country next year – and win.”
The Times, referring to Osborne’s “claim to posterity”, argues that the pension reforms will stand out when historians of the future assess this government:
“It is not just good politics to allow older voters to shelter more of their savings from tax in ISAs and premium bonds and to offer them a favourable rate of return on a new pensioner bond, it was also good policy.
The principle behind this change is that the savings belong to the saver, not to the life insurance company that takes control of the pot.”
The paper believes Osborne has “made a bid to have his tenure as chancellor remembered for more than austerity… Mr Osborne has come to the House with some awful numbers and has endured some bad days. Yesterday was his best yet.”
The Financial Times, in a leading article headlined “A deft blend of prudence and politics”, refers to the pensions reform as “a bold initiative ostensibly aimed at encouraging thrift.”
But the FT counsels that “there must be a risk that some pensioners will run through their lump sum irresponsibly”. If so, “at a time of growing life expectancy, a sizeable number may end up falling back on the state.”
It also deals with Osborne’s major political objective ahead of next year’s general election, claiming that the budget throws “a tempting bone in the direction of the Conservative faithful and those tempted to leave the fold in the direction of the UK Independence party.”
That view, although mentioned in the opening paragraph to The Guardian’s main news report, puts that to one side in its editorial. Instead, it questions the wisdom of a pension reform “whipped out of the hat as fait accompli on budget day.”
It concludes with a political point: “This was the budget of, as Mr Osborne proudly put it, a Conservative chancellor. And about his Conservatism, if little else, Mr Osborne is very serious indeed.”
That fact delighted the Daily Mail: “In the main, this was a first-rate budget which – whisper it softly – could even give the Conservatives a fighting chance of winning the election.”
The paper even believes that the “speech rang with such good sense and justice that they could almost have been written by the Mail!” It continues:
“For years, this paper has campaigned for Britain’s army of savers – heroes and heroines of prudence, who have endured terrible times as record low interest rates and inflation have eaten away at their incomes…
At one bold stroke, George Osborne swept away all tax restrictions on pensioners’ access to their life savings, leaving them free at last to spend or invest their nest-eggs as they wish.
Along with other measures – the increase in the tax-free limit on all ISAs, the introduction of pensioner bonds with attractive interest rates and the rise in the total pension savings people can take as a lump sum – this is a revolution for everyone planning retirement.”
The Sun is equally pleased on behalf of its readers: “Cheaper beer, bigger bingo prizes and a tax cut for all but the rich. What’s not to like?”
By contrast, “it wasn’t your year if you’re a tax-avoiding smoker with a private jet, buying a big house through a company. We can’t see many other losers. Well, one… Ed Miliband.”
It thinks his responding speech “was shamefully poor” and argues that “he can no longer argue the Tories care only for the rich, with Osborne persistently cutting tax for low earners.”
The Independent, registering the widespread surprise at the chancellor pulling “a plump-looking rabbit out of his hat” thinks it “difficult to fault” the pension proposals.
It too seizes on the politics behind the reforms: “The political message could hardly be more deafening. The election may be more than 12 months off, but Mr Osborne is in no doubt about whom he is wooing. Having long claimed to be on the side of the hard-working, the thrifty and the responsible, this was the budget in which he aimed to prove it.” But the Indy concludes:
“For all Mr Osborne’s warm words about ‘the makers, the doers and the savers’, in its focus on business and the elderly this was, in fact, the most narrowly Tory of budgets.
Perhaps the biggest conjuring trick of all, then, was the attempt to make naked politics look like sober economics.”
The Daily Mirror, loyal as ever to the Labour party, has a more difficult hand to play. Its leader, “That’s rich, by George”, calls the budget a “naked appeal to well-heeled Conservative voters” which “comes at a cost for the majority of Britons.”
“His overall strategy reeks of opportunism and failure,” says the paper. “The real test of budgets isn’t a penny off a pint of beer but whether they create a fairer, more decent, prosperous Britain. In that respect, George Osborne has flopped. Again.”
Better still is the comment by Mirror columnist Brian Reade: “It was a budget for people who budget for nannies and ski trips, and a decent investment nest-egg to keep them well-feathered in old age.”
The Daily Express is pleased on behalf of savers (who probably make up a great deal of its readership). But, it adds, “this budget was about more than providing support for savers. It was just as importantly a loud statement of intent from Mr Osborne to the public and to businesses as the general election begins to loom large.”
It says: “While he has another budget before the election it was yesterday’s which will determine the context in which the battle will be fought. That context will in all likelihood be a Britain where the economy is growing, business is thriving and the general public are significantly better off than they were when Labour left office in 2010.”
And the Daily Star argues that Osborne’s “measures are welcome news for drinkers, motorists and people on small wages” (aka, Star readers).
But it accuses the chancellor of missing an opportunity to help millions of would-be house-buyers by failing to reform stamp duty.