Osborne had a clearly defined audience he wanted to reach, tailored messages for that audience and media tactics which ensured the Government dominated the news agenda before, during and after the announcement.
This was a package of proposals designed to appeal to families in Middle Britain who are feeling financially squeezed and resentful that whilst they pay their tax some companies and high wealth individuals are dodging their obligations. These Middle Britons are the people in marginal seats whose votes the Tories will need at the forthcoming General Election, a mere six months away, if they are to remain in power.
So, for housing obsessed Middle Britain, he offered reform of stamp duty with a proposal to replace punitive slab rates with progressive rates similar to the way in which income tax is levied. This is great news for the vast majority of house buyers many of whom will henceforth pay significantly less stamp duty. However, it is not good news for those buying very expensive homes as they will face a bigger bill, but this was a clever move to stall any attempt by Labour to say the rich would benefit most: they will not, Middle Britain will.
Other populist “protect my pocket” measures for Osborne’s target audience include the ability to pass on the tax-efficiency benefits of ISAs to spouses, further encouragement for ISA savings, abolition of air passenger duty for children under 12 (later to include under 16s) and no rise in fuel duties.
Other measures were not specifically designed to benefit Middle Britain – for example the proposal to raise the personal allowance to £10,600 from April next year – but Osborne was careful to ensure he gave as many people as possible something to cheer.
And for those pilloried for not paying their fair share of taxation Osborne proposed a 25% tax on profits generated by multi-nationals which currently avoid tax by shifting profits out of the UK, limiting certain tax reliefs banks can use to reduce their tax bill and a new charge for non-doms resident in the UK for 17 of the past 20 years.
The core message from Osborne was very simple: we know it’s been tough financially for Middle Britain in recent years, but we’re getting the economy back on track and that enables us to share some of the benefits of economic recovery with you. The sub-text, of course, is don’t let Labour ruin it.
He was also careful to identify and neuter the obvious counter-attacks which Labour was likely to deploy.
The NHS underfunded and under threat? Osborne announced that he will give the NHS £2bn extra each year until 2020 with GPs getting an extra £1.2bn paid for from bank foreign exchange manipulation fines.
That left Labour promising to add even more funding on top of the £2bn if it gets into power, but without explaining where that additional money would come from the promise lacks credibility and bite.
The Tories are only interested in helping their rich chums? What about the stamp duty reforms, the new non-dom charges and the tax on multi-nationals which seek to avoid UK tax? Or what about the increase in the tax threshold at which people pay tax which will benefit low earners most? Or the abolition of national insurance on young apprentices?
Not enough says Labour, but probably enough to avoid the “nasty party” label which Labour constantly tries to pin on the Tories.
In a well-orchestrated move the Government announced a raft of major investments in road and rail in the lead up to the Autumn Statement thereby setting the media agenda in their favour leaving little room for Labour to get its core messages across. Never mind that some of these announcements were promises rather than firm commitments and others were repackaged proposals previously announced, there were sufficient juicy positive stories to keep the media busy and crowd out Labour.
By forcing a vote on stamp duty the day after the Statement the Government was able to turn the media narrative from Labour’s reaction to the Statement to whether or not Labour would support the proposed reform.
So what lessons are to be learned from this piece of political PR?
Be clear who your target audience is, what their concerns are and what kind of messages appeal to them.
Use that audience insight to tailor your messages to provide them with compelling reasons to vote in a certain way at the next General Election.
Anticipate and neuter potential counter-attacks from the Opposition.
Dominate the media agenda before, during and after the announcement: drip feed positive news in a sustained and planned manner.
Put the Opposition on the back foot by challenging them to support popular proposals put forward by the Government.