Just because George Osborne had some very good figures indeed to read out at today’s Autumn Statement doesn’t mean that he had an easy job. There’s Labour’s campaign on the cost of living, which the Chancellor and his colleagues have given enough ground to that it has credence. Then there are the worries of his senior colleagues that Osborne might ‘bank’ the recovery too early.
But Osborne did deliver a statement that addressed all these concerns. Threaded through it was a ‘look how wrong they were’ theme of the Chancellor outlining those predictions of doom from the Labour benches about the effects of the government’s economic policy, and contrasting them with the reality:
‘Mr Speaker, there were those who said it was a “fantasy” to believe that businesses could create jobs more quickly than the public sector would have to lose them.
‘What they should have said is that it would be fantastic if it happened. So I’ve got good news for them. Businesses have already created three jobs for every one lost in the public sector.’
But he held back from sounding too jubilant about this by including another substantial ‘yes, but’ passage, in which he first set out one piece of economic news, such as the improving jobs market, and then added the continuing weaknesses in that area as a sign that this government needs to be left to finish the job.
‘But I also report the hard truth that the job is not yet done. Yes, the deficit is down. But it is still far too high and today we take more difficult decisions. Yes, the forecasts show that growth is up.
‘But the same forecasts show growth in productivity is still too low and today we set out further economic reforms. Yes, jobs are up and unemployment is down. But too many of our young people lack the skills to fill those jobs and the opportunities to acquire them – so now we take bold steps to remove that cap on aspiration.
‘Yes, businesses are expanding. But business taxes are still too high and exports are too low and we must address that. And yes, real household disposable income is rising. But the effects of the financial crash on family budgets and the cost of living are still being felt. So where we can afford to help hardworking families, we will continue to do so.’
This also served the purpose of suggesting that the government isn’t out of touch or oblivious to the cost of living crisis that Labour likes to focus on. Osborne then wrapped that up in his concluding statement by telling the chamber that ‘we are heading in the right direction. Britain’s moving again. Let’s keep going.’
His ‘retail offers’, from repeating his autumn conference line that next year’s fuel duty increase will be cancelled, through a new ‘priority right to move’ for social housing tenants to relocate for a job, to policies on rejuvenating town centres (you heard that here first on Coffee House) had a distinctly non-London flavour to them, too, in an effort to suggest that this government is keen to see growth ripple out across the country.
So politically this was an effective statement: structured well to answer Osborne’s critics. This is of course quite unrelated to the detail of today’s announcements, or indeed to whether Osborne himself was entirely right to be quite so cheery (this graph from Fraser suggests not). But the Chancellor can at least bank his own personal recovery today.
Listen to the Chancellor’s statement, Ed Balls’ reaction and other key responses on our live audio hub.Tags: Autumn Statement 2013, George Osborne, UK politics