Death by a thousand Tweets (and taxed grannies)

Posted on: 21 March 2012 by Alexander Hay

As Budget 2012 immediately gives us a new buzzword – 'Granny Tax' – Chancellor George Osborne's folly is discussed, and gloated over, in some detail by the Twittersphere...

A large twittering bird, about to tweet all over George Osborne's career, yesterday. (Image C/O shawncampbell @ Flickr)'Many a tweet makes a t**t,' Prime Minister David Cameron is claimed to have said. If true, he may be finding this maxim applies to his close friend, future baronet and current Chancellor, George Osborne, who has discovered to his cost that the twitterers can circle like vultures once a faux pas is committed and a new buzzword is coined.

That phrase, in case you don't know, is 'Granny Tax'.

Many people, of course, do stupid things like riding bicycles on the pavement, for example, or gaily skipping through a wolf enclosure while dressed as a sheep. But it takes particular talent to achieve what Osborne has done here – namely declare inadvertent economic war with one of the largest voting blocs the Conservatives have at their disposal. The grans are not for taxing.

Or as Independent on Sunday political editor Jane Merrick (@janemerrick23) puts it: “Treasury officials admit 4.5m pensioners worse off real terms by freezing personal allowance in what's being dubbed 'granny tax.'”

BBC Chief Political Correspondent Norman Smith (@BBCNormanS) sobrely notes that “Granny tax will cost 350000 pensioners aged over 65 £285 a year,” while Guardian data journalist James Ball (@jamesrbuk) warns that “...OAPs aren't just core voters, they're core tory members too.”

Even those journalists aligned to the Tory press are creeping away, very slowly. Daily Telegraph political correspondent Christopher Hope (@christopherhope) drily reports that “Treasury sources admit 3.3bn tax raid on 4.5m pensioners is 'controversial.'”

Meanwhile the Daily Mail's Tim Shipman (@ShippersUnbound), who is also the Deputy Political Editor at his paper, cuts to the chase with laser precision. “There's a case that this generation of pensioners did well & there's case for generational transfer. Osborne did not make this argument,” he concludes, ominously.

Others are beginning to scent the Chancellor's blood, which may worry him, and will certainly trouble Cameron – an ex-PR man who should know what happens when the publicity machine turns rabid. “#grannytax is now the top trending item in the UK. Not what gorgeous George was looking for, methinks” says Tim Gatt (@TimGattITV), digital editor at ITV

This same simmering resentment and contempt for the Chancellor and his party manifests itself over at left wing stalwart Sunny Hundal's feed (@sunny_hundal). “Very amusing that #grannytax is trending. Could be the first sign of the Conservatives finding core vote turning on them,” he cackles. Though, should there be any ambivalence in his feelings, another tweet - “strategically inept, internally incoherent and politically idiotic” makes his view of the Budget all too clear.

Then there is the out and out rage. Labour twitterer Phil BC (@philbc3) roars out that the government is “Dismembering the NHS, cutting minimum wage in real terms”, while granting “tax breaks for the rich, and now #GrannyTax. What a foul shower these Tories are.”

The Sunday Telegraph's political editor, Patrick Hennessy (@PatJHennessy), is also rather shocked. “Why didn't the LibDems raise a fuss about the #grannytax?” he asks with some naivety, but a lot of incredulity. Having given so much for so little, the Lib Dems will surely pay a harsh price for this. Though at least they'll save money in 2016, when their party conferences start taking place in portaloos.

The surprise winners, therefore, must be Labour, who prides itself on its pensioner-friendly credentials. Summing it up perfectly was ex-Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott (@johnprescott), who is very much at home in the terse, direct medium of the Tweet. “Cameron gives 14,000 millionaires (him & Osborne included) a £40k tax cut funded by grannies. Shameful,” he growls.

The real beneficiaries of the budget, meanwhile will be Labour's polling figures, provided Ed Miliband can marshal a credible response. This may have been the turning point for the coalition, at least if the sentiment of journalist Patrick Strudd (@PatrickStrud) is anything to go by. “We didn't vote for any of this” he says, and so neatly encapsulates why Osborne and his government are in deep trouble.

Image C/O shawncampbell @ FLICKR

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Alexander Hay

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