The Autumn Statement: Poets or rockers?

Hilaire Belloc and Motley Crue

In the end, it all comes down to a choice between Hilaire Belloc and Mötley Crüe. That is the choice that will determine the outcome of the next general election.

On the one side are the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, firm disciples of Belloc and the poet's belief that one should "always keep-a-hold of nurse/ for fear of finding something worse".

Labour, for its part, prefers listening to the Mötley Crüe, particularly when the band thrashes out the lyrics: "Now it's time for change/ Nothing stays the same/ Now it's time for change".

It is through this prism that the politics of George Osborne's Autumn Statement should be viewed.

Despite everything, despite the expected poor figures, the extended austerity, the potentially missed targets, the chancellor's strategic aim will be to convince voters that everything is still on track and they should keep a-hold of Nurse Osborne's hand.

The mañana chancellor?

Let me, at this point, throw out some apparently random phrases: we are making progress; Britain is on the right track; turning back now would be a disaster; the last thing we should do now is change course.

All phrases, you will not be surprised to learn, that the chancellor himself wrote in an article for the Sun newspaper this weekend.

His challenge will be to make this case when he is simultaneously forced to admit that he is going to have to cut spending for longer to reduce the deficit and that he is not on track to meet his target of cutting national debt as a share of national income by 2015.

Quite a big task and one that Labour will insist he is unable to achieve. How can the government claim it is fixing a debt crisis when, er, debt is rising?

Cornish pasty festival Pic: Getty Images The chancellor lost ground with his "pasty tax" plan in the Budget

The big question - and one that is unanswerable for the moment - is whether the public are willing to remain patient and give Mr Osborne the extra time he is asking for. Do they continue to trust him or do they begin to view him as a "mañana chancellor", one that always promises to deliver recovery tomorrow, never today.

A key part of this argument is not just the chancellor's ability to persuade people that his deficit reduction strategy is right, but also whether they believe it is fair. Can Mr Osborne persuade people of his belief that "we are all in this together"?

This is the test that will be applied to the tax rises he is expected to levy on the wealthy, perhaps by cutting pension tax relief, and to the squeeze on welfare that he is expected to make by saying most benefits should rise by less than inflation.

In many ways, on this fairness issue, the chancellor will be trying to recover ground lost earlier in the year at the Budget. His decision to cut the top rate of tax from 50p to 45p, and the taxes that he imposed on unlikely targets such as warm pasties and static holiday caravans, made it much harder for him to argue that everyone was feeling the pain evenly.

To this end, Mr Osborne is expected to try to claim some ownership for new tax rises for the rich - not least so the Lib Dems cannot do the same.

Coalition strains

It is notable that, unlike the run-up to the Budget, there has been an outbreak of shocking coalition discipline with hardly a jot of the Autumn Statement leaked except for those parts leaked officially.

If on the Monday before a major financial statement the headline is about yet another crackdown on tax avoidance, then the Treasury is doing well.

What is the Autumn Statement?

Autumn leaves
  • One of the two major statements the Treasury has to make to Parliament every year
  • Governments decide what form they take and when to make them, so there have been many changes over the years
  • Since 1997 the main Budget - which contains the bulk of tax, benefit and duty changes - has been in the spring before the start of the tax year in April
  • The second statement has tended to focus on updated forecasts for government finances
  • Over the past few years this distinction has become blurred, with the Autumn Statement becoming more of a mini Budget
  • Under the last Labour government it was called the pre-Budget report

Where that unity between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will be more severely strained is when they have to say something about their plans for beyond the 2015 election.

The balance here is for the coalition to say enough for their deficit reduction plans to remain credible while keeping enough back to allow both parties to have distinctive policies that reflect their agendas and priorities in the run up to the election.

For example, in this Autumn Statement, because the Conservatives and Lib Dems cannot agree, there is unlikely to be any new mansion tax or any cut in housing benefits for the under 25s.

Expect those to appear in separate election manifestos instead. For now, the chancellor is likely to set out some more detail about a forthcoming spending review and the first year after the election - but no more.

As for Labour, the Autumn Statement provides both an opportunity and a trap. It gives the opposition a chance to capitalise on the government's poor financial figures (and missed targets), to make the case for change, to place a doubt in the minds of all those who have so far put their faith in the government.

They will argue that the government has failed on its own terms: it has failed to reduce debt. The trap is that if the government sets out its own plans to raise taxes and cut spending, then Labour will face more pressure to say what it would do. The party has yet to set out in any detail how it would cut the deficit and sooner or later it is going to have to make a decision.

So the bottom line for the Autumn Statement is a very simple question: Does it make the government more or less credible on the economy? Amid the flurry of figures and targets and pundits, that is the issue that matters.

James Landale Article written by James Landale James Landale Deputy political editor

Autumn Statement: Osborne's political balancing act

George Osborne's challenge is simple to explain but hard to achieve. He will want to use the poor borrowing figures to try to convince voters that the recovery is still too fragile to risk any change of government. But he will want to avoid voters concluding that his failure to fix the deficit at the pace he intended means that it might be time to give Labour a go.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    No26 Gammarus
    'I'm afraid there is no money'
    If that is the case where has the £400billion 'quantative easing' money come from? and the near £trillion bank bailout largesse.
    Has it been shovelled onto the balance sheets of 'socially useless and incompetent banks?
    Would the money have been better spent in the 'real economy?

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Forget the trinklets. The best government are always the government in opposition. Once elected its always the same old, same old.... make the little man/woman pay!

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Gideon Osborne is not, and never has been, credible. The sad fact is that neither is Edward Milliband. No wonder the electorate is contemplating the hara-kiri that would inevitably result from flirting with Nigel Farago.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    The present, still class-based system we have relies on a large percentage of the population being kept stupid and on low incomes: it's how the upper classes control us, and maintain their power over us. Hence the rise in Uni fees, to deny more of us an education, etc. Despite all the promises, little will change, because if real change came along, they'd lose their power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    The cuts are here for a long time whoever is in power. Governments can no longer borrow enough to sustain historic expenditure levels. Increase taxes and the bright leave. Nobody is brave enough to tell the truth. It's easier to blame the current government and live in hope that the next will increase expenditure using money it doesn't have. People get the governments & newspapers they deserve.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    I think the wording on Nikki Sixx's guitar strap sums it up!

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    The main reason for lack of growth has been the lack of investment in the countries infrastructure. We have 50's roads, rail and public transport.Successive governments have all done this. An interesting point in last nights inside out (NE version) was that only £5 per head of capita was spent on the regions roads compared with £2500 phc in London and the south.
    Businesses cannot expand or grow

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Whatever the different parties say will not make any meaningful and beneficial difference to the population as a whole until the national and international financial system is completely overhauled.
    Influential elements in the 'City' and Wall Street in particular have been proved to be corrupt in the extreme.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    And are we all in this together? No. Never has there been a more socially divisive 'Government' People expressing hatred of the poor and needy. Does austerity work? Ask Greece or Spain. Why are we in this mess? Because successive governments from Thatcher onwards have sold our resources to anyone. Now all the 'jobs' are in China or had by immigrants. Britain has been trashed by market fascism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.


    Simply, the government can't afford to cut at the scale it promised. Cutting the amount of public sector jobs needed to reduce the deficit would destroy the last threads of demand in the economy. Public and private sectors are now so merged that the only way to preserve the country is to raise further revenues. Over to you, HMRC. Can you chase down taxes avoided, evaded and uncollected?

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Where are the cuts in public spending, departmental waste , unnecessary and undeserved benefit payments ? There are still too many overpaid and surplus to requirement people working in public sector jobs,too many managers in the over funded NHS, too many useless quangos, and too much of the taxpayers cash being wasted on government bodies, "not fit for purpose".

  • Comment number 40.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Labour/Lib Dem/Tories can anyone really tell what the difference is between them?
    Their combined policies amount to "you pay, we get rich".

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    i got one more silver dollar
    aint got nothing else sept clothes on my back
    i got one more silver dollar
    and a long walk down the track when will
    our misery end when our silver dollar goes
    i aint no one but a poboy
    and we are not even started to pay back the banks the money
    we all owe them
    so we are told
    i got one more solar panel on roof
    feed in tarif pays my rent

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Surely the relevant Hilaire Belloc quote is:
    “The accursed power which stands on privilege( and goes with women, champagne and bridge)
    Broke - and democracy resumed her reign ( which goes with bridge and women and champagne.”

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    once upon a time we dressed so fine
    didnt you.
    you looked so amused a napoleon in rags was the languge used goto him
    now you cant refuse
    and stare into the vacuum of his eyes and beg for your next meal
    a bob dylan write and song for the piano man

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    All political parties follow the same neo-classical economic consensus.
    NuLabor under D.Milleband would be even more so.
    Osbourne needs to be reminded, often, that his plan was to remove the structural deficit by 2015.
    He'll be lucky to have reduced it by 25%.
    We are paying his price for no good reason.
    Unemployment up, job insecurity up, rich doing well, Tory government in power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Is this government credible? 2.5 years ago before this shower came to power the diggers were just about to dig the foundations for new schools up and down the country. This shower scrapped most shovel ready new schools and suprise suprise what they doing now. Doh building new schools. Credible, I think not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    I'd prefer The Stranglers. . . . . .'Something Better Change'. . . . Linking myself to 'None of the above'. This is certainly what's needed

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Balls said ''Stop! the plan isn't working''
    ''Don't make matters worse..'' he did say
    Balls said ''we must go back to our old plan''
    But Balls had his chance... and his day!


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