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Autumn Statement sketch: Sub-arctic Chancellor warms up the Commons

5 December 2012

5:56 PM

5 December 2012

5:56 PM

From our sub-arctic chancellor this was a rip-roaring performance. Using all the arts perfected by Gordon Brown, he dazzled the house with his Autumn Statement. A chancellor should never be entirely candid. His job is to blame others for failure, to take credit for all successes, (no matter what their true origin), to engender confidence in the future and to attract cautious applause. George Osborne did all this.

The bad news came out first. There were sharp intakes of breath as he revealed that the economy had shrunk by 6.9 per cent during the credit crunch. And he offered a personal confession which, in accordance with tradition, was masked in flowery statistical language. At the start of his chancellorship, he admitted, he had hazarded some absurd forecasts about our economic prospects. He explained this rather large cock-up as follows:

‘Weaker than expected growth can be accounted for by over-optimism regarding net trade.’

Which all sounds fine and dandy, really. Over-optimism? It’s not even a fault. It’s a virtue. Osborne was simply too exuberant and fun-loving in those early days. He went skipping around the corridors of the Treasury whistling and trying on amusing hats, while knots of killjoy officials said tedious things like, ‘Chancellor, our exports to America have collapsed.’

Having dealt with this mistake, he reeled off screeds of Tory-pleasing announcements. Falling debt. Curbs on benefits. Rises in tax allowances. Extra latitude for SMEs to make investments. The benches behind him purred their approval. Labour were in a big sulk, opposite. Their hopes were pinned on the trusty Ed Balls who was heckling Osborne constantly.


At one point the chancellor seemed to argue that state employment should be scrapped altogether. Yes, he really did. He was crowing about Britain’s falling unemployment and comparing it with Spain’s – where only grave-diggers still work full-time – when this Thatcherite solecism popped out.

‘For every one less job in the public sector, two are created in the private sector.’

Clearly, the government should be banned from hiring anyone. Perhaps he’ll leave that for another day. He’s certainly keen to put the public sector on a crash diet. Today the state gobbles up 48 per cent of our wealth. Osborne will slim that to 39 per cent within five years.

He slipped a few treats to the LibDems as well. Osborne has long expressed enthusiasm for the Geldof-ish idea that Britain must atone for its economic success. Today, he was ‘proud to keep our promises to the world’s poorest’ and he reiterated his commitment to spending 0.7 of GDP on water programmes, dictator’s wives and other stimulants to global trade. Justine Greening, the minister responsible, bore the tidings with wintry stoicism. She’s had plenty of time to practise this ‘disbelieving forbearance’ face. You can try it at home too. Just imagine you’re Nicholas Soames receiving news that Fortnum’s has run out of foie gras.

By the time Osborne, finished, the Tories were cheering like hooligans. Ed Balls rose to reply and the Labour benches perked up. Balls, admittedly, faced an impossible task: to dance on the grave of the British economy while telling us all to join in and cheer. But he made Mission Impossible even harder by fluffing his opening declaration.

‘The national debt is not rising it is falling,’ he said. His muddle went unnoticed until he drew attention to it.

‘I’ll make that statement again’ he said, but he’d already lost the argument, the house and the confidence of his party.

He never recovered. His colleagues sat in glum silence through his faltering, mish-mash of a speech. Osborne’s turn came again. Instantly, he twisted the knife that Balls had plunged into his own reputation. He mocked Ball’s ‘falling debt’ blunder and said he’d just witnessed ‘the worst response I’ve ever heard.’

For Balls, this may be Stalingrad.

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Show comments
  • dalai guevara

    Exactly as expected, Balls is toast, he is a burn out – time to swap him for a calmer and more sensible replacement who has something new to bring to the table.

  • BluMoo

    Wouldn’t get too excited about this triumph. All the punters will see is a bit of footage of Osborne telling us it’s grim, it’s going to stay grim, and then the front bench in peals of laughter, not good PR.

    • Dimoto

      Probably. The BBC, by artful editing, have already turned Balls’ disaster into something bordering on coherance.

      • HooksLaw

        BBC on-line are certainty up to their usual bigoted tricks. Presumably they held a conference where 28 carefully chosen socialist advisers told them it was OK to throw out the rules of balance.

  • HD2

    For Britons, it’s not Stalingrad, but Napoleon’s Russian campaign.

    We’re stuffed – the Welfare State bankrupted us.

    • telemachus

      You are stuffed because Osborne is incapable of stimulating growth
      Today you saw him as Emporer Nero

      • HiFlite

        Telemachus , did you find Balls inspiring and charismatic today?

        • telemachus

          In truth it is difficult to be inspiring faced with the drab best chancellor in a hundred years

          • HooksLaw

            That’s a ‘no’ then. We must be grateful for Balls in that he shot you fair and square in the foot.

      • HooksLaw

        The very word, ‘stimulate’ shows how wrong you are. Its borrowing with no prospect of generating a return which has got us into this mess.

        • telemachus

          I am tired of saying this
          If you pump prime growth you stimulate more growth and pay back as the tax receipts come rolling in (they have dropped 17 billion pa since Osborne got the levers)

          • HooksLaw

            So why and how did Brown run deficits and increase the deficit at the same time?

            I have news for you, we are all tired of you saying, ‘If you pump prime growth you stimulate more growth and pay back as the tax receipts come rolling in’
            Brown trashed that notion to extinction between 2001 and 2008.

            • Hugh

              Exactly, and in the Balls/Brown model when exactly do you pay down debt? They increased it during a time of economic growth, they want to increase it further when the growth falters. So when does it fall?

  • Bluesman

    Stalingrad? But surely the Tories are the defenders here? Or did you muddle your last line?

    • telemachus

      Stalingrad was not named Stalingrad for nothing
      The glorious forces of socialism trounced the right wing forces of evil in the end
      Just watch

      • Mark Thomas


      • tankus

        and there’s me thinking that it was Stalin’s communist butchers against Hitler’s national socialist workers party thugs…..

        • telemachus

          It was not called the Great Patriotic War for nothing

          • HooksLaw

            The Great Partiotic War refers to WW1, thats the one lost by the Tsar.
            The great socialist Stalin reinvented it.
            THE Patriotoic War was the one won by another tsar, against Napoleon.

            How do the socialists term their attack on Finland?

            • telemachus

              Where did you learn your history
              The Great Patriotic War was 1941-1945

      • HooksLaw

        So Stalin was a socialist then? That’s official?

      • Hugh

        There’s a difference between trolling and just being an idiot: The purpose of the former is to make others look stupid.

  • telemachus

    The proof of the pudding will be in the eating
    Growth forecasts for this year are being adjusted down and you bet your life that we will slouch into a triple dip recession by March
    Osborne can bask for a week or so but soon reality will kick in