George Osborne’s speech on the economy today will show how much the Chancellor’s stock has risen in the past year. It also shows that in spite of the embarrassing defeat on Syria two weeks ago, the Conservatives still feel they can be confident about their appeal to voters, because things are going well on the domestic front. If the growth forecasts were still terrible and key sectors such as manufacturing were still producing terrible figures, the Syria vote would have had far more dangerous consequences for the Tory leadership. But instead, they are able to bounce back from defeat with the statistics that make them look strong. As James pointed out in his Mail on Sunday column yesterday, this will be his most upbeat verdict yet on the economy. Given Labour has found a reasonably effective attack line on cost of living, arguing that voters don’t feel as though their lives are getting better, the Chancellor must feel very confident indeed to trumpet his economic successes.
But Syria casts a shadow over the party leadership on another key economic issue: high-speed rail. Today’s Public Accounts Committee report is yet another nail the project’s opponents will try to hammer into its coffin. It argues that the government ‘has yet to present a convincing strategic case for High Speed 2′ and that ‘huge spending decisions’ have been made ‘on the basis of fragile numbers, out-of-date data and assumptions which do not reflect real life’.
As I reported on Friday, that includes a growing group of Conservative MPs who are lobbying the Treasury to change its mind on high-speed rail. Osborne might be confident about the economy, but he can’t relax entirely just yet.Tags: George Osborne, HS2, UK politics