One of the Tories’ real failings over the past few years has been to ignore the spores of a problem, and then wait until it has mushroomed into something they can’t handle. Take the bedroom tax, food banks, or zero hours contracts: all of which Labour has managed to brand as a sign of the evil coalition’s failure, complete with scary names, partly because ministers never bothered to frame these issues themselves. So this morning George Osborne attempted to trip up Labour in its latest charge against the Tories: the cost of living. And he got in before his opponents have made it up to full speed.
It would have been tempting for the Chancellor to give a triumphant speech in which he teased and ridiculed his opponents now that things are going his way. But his delivery was measured as he carefully attacked Ed Balls, partly because this is hardly a stunning recovery. He said:
‘In my view the last few months have decisively ended this controversy in favour of this ‘financial conditions’ story of the last three years. Those in favour of a Plan B have lost the argument. The reason is simple: proponents of the ‘fiscalist’ story cannot explain why the UK recovery has strengthened rapidly over the last six months.’
He is also now able to hit back with the statistics that undermine Labour’s gloominess, and the Chancellor savoured listing these in detail. But his best line was short, snappy, and one he should repeat. ‘Our plan for the economy is a plan for living standards,’ he said, before contrasting it with Ed Balls’ alternative:
‘The alternative plan still being presented is a return to higher borrowing, more debt, more instability, lost jobs, rising interest rates and higher taxes. These will all add hugely to the cost of living. And that we know from bitter experience will make our nation poorer not richer.’
The presence of ‘still’ in that first sentence is important. It is an attempt by George Osborne to paint Ed Balls as a man who insists on hawking a useless plan: one proven not to work and one that costs more, like some dodgy gadget for sale on the Trotters Independent Trading stall. He didn’t want to use the words ‘green shoots’ in today’s speech, but he certainly felt confident enough to discard Plan B to the dustbin of costly scams.
Read the full text of George Osborne’s speech here, or listen below:-