George Osborne's 'work vs welfare' Budget is one of the most significant I have ever seen

Alastair Stewart

Former ITV News presenter

Credit: PA

Alastair Stewart is presenter of ITV News' Budget coverage.

One thing 'Budgets' aren't is just that: 'Budgets'.

For ages now, the notion of delivering a speech that simply says "I'll spend 'x' and pay for it with 'y' taxes and 'z' borrowing" would be laughed out across the dispatch box.

We now live in an age of Autumn Statements, Spending Reviews, Budgets, Emergency Budgets and post-election Summer Budgets, like today's.

They are still high drama: feats of political intrigue coloured by political hyperbole and tempered by the political cycle. I've loved them all my journalistic life.

From beer and fags to the intricacies of the public finances and the Public Sector Borrowing Requirement; through the Foot-Thatcher-Kinnock-Smith-Blair debates, between Chicago-school monetarism and home-grown Keynesianism, all the way to the relative economic detente we saw until Ed Miliband returned to his pre-abolition of Clause 4 textbooks and went back to basics.

There's also been the near ever-present power struggle between the First Lord of the Treasury - the PM - and his or her Chancellor of the Exchequer: Thatcher-Lawson and Blair-Brown are particularly collectible examples.

It might sometimes seem like Noel Coward meets Adam Smith, but it really matters. Once in while, however, they matter much more, and today's magnum opus from George Osborne is a case in point.

From 2010 to 2015, he sounded like the Spice Girls: "I'll tell you what I want, what I really, really want...", but because of the coalition with the Lib Dems, he couldn't deliver.

Today he could and did, and make no mistake, it was big. George is numerate, intensely political and wants to be PM.

He went to the heart of our political economy today, albeit via growth, borrowing, deficits, point-scoring and a stack of other stuff, to ask the key questions.

How can we wean people, who have a choice, off costly benefits, while protecting those who enjoy no such choice?

How can we kick capitalist employers into paying a fairer whack for a day's work, to make the work option even more attractive for the unemployed and underemployed, on the margins, than the benefit option?

If he got it right, he will have caused a post-War revolution in the UK. If he got it wrong, folk will suffer, businesses too. The rest, frankly, is also worth reading about, but this is the key.

He sought to rebalance the post-Beveridge settlement of 1945/6, that a combination of laziness and political opportunism from all parties has failed to address.

Benefits are paid for by taxpayers, or the banks the government borrows from in our name.

There will be a sharp debate over the safety-net - the government's commitment to protect those who simply cannot protect themselves, and rightly so.

But Osborne's gauntlet of "work vs welfare" was one of the most significant I have ever reported on.