Based on the tone that he took on the Andrew Marr Show this morning, we can expect George Osborne to take a rather defiant tone as he unveils this week’s Budget. The Chancellor has had a difficult few weeks, not least because of the retreat on pension reforms and defeat on Sunday trading, but he tried to turn this into a virtue, saying:
‘The big picture is people look at Britain and they see a country getting its act together and putting its house in order. And if you look at what we do as a government, I think we take big, radical, reforming steps. Yeah, we have got a small majority, so do we win every vote? No, we don’t. But you can do two things in the face of that.
‘You can either shut up shop and do nothing – that is not me as a politician. If people want a politician who is just going to sit here and blather away and actually do anything they can get someone else. What I am interested in doing is making the real, lasting changes to improve the living standards of working people in this country.’
This is a good way of dealing with an awkward situation, which is fraying discipline in the Conservative party. Osborne is also clearly trying to deal with another awkward situation, which is the fact that he needs to make more cuts and prepare the country for at least a bit of economic turbulence over the next few months. He made that clear in his op-ed in this morning’s Sun on Sunday, and again in his morning interview:
‘We are going to make further savings equivalent, as I say, to 50p in every £100 the Government spends by the end of the decade. But what is the alternative? To see this difficult situation emerging in the world economy; to look at our own economy and see that it is not as productive as we would like and to give up and say we are not going to do anything? Absolutely not. We have to roll up our sleeves, make sure we are living within our means, making sure we are more productive, making sure our schools are better, our infrastructure is better, our taxes are more competitive. We are not powerless in the face of these things. I think we can make those savings; it’s not a huge amount in the scheme of things.’
Osborne’s message was that there is no alternative to what he is about to announce – and the challenge for John McDonnell, who didn’t get the sofa time that he’d hoped for with the Chancellor at the end of the show, isn’t so much to argue that there is, but to ensure that Labour gets a look in at all. At least Osborne’s problem is that his stock is a bit low in Westminster at the moment. Labour’s problem is that it seems totally irrelevant.