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

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  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    I guess the BBC has the moral integrity to be allowed to choose which or my words get published.

    I wonder how many paedophiles they'd have to harbour in order to lose that moral high ground?

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.


    Now you are being trivial aren't you?

    I don't consider a fiscal overspend of GBP 72 billion in 2008/9 a trivial matter. The financial crisis was the product of debt expansion: debt of government, debt of banks and debt of individuals.

    It was the task of government at that time to constrain this madness. Not only did Labour fail to do this it actually joined in.

    You are all indicted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    stan 84
    Terrible that trivialising eh? Take this example -
    "The Coalition understated the depth of the problems Labour left in 2010." (Stanilic 84)

    To untrivialise that you'd have to replace 'under' with ''over' and 'Labour' with 'the financial crisis'.
    Wouldn't want anyone to think you were being trivial, would we?

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    Will he be poetic "Send not to know for whom the taxman calls, he calls for thee" or more heavy rock " Like a bat out of hell Fags are up 'fore the day is done" Whatever his style the chances of him being a Christmas number 1 are slim.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    The economic strategy is not working.Time for a new plan/strategist?Time for Cameron to act!

  • Comment number 86.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    80. Brian_P
    Let's pull together and stop whingeing

    The tories' idea of "pulling together" is telling the oarsmaster to whip us galley slaves harder, while the great and good continue to quaff wine out of gold goblets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    With political comment like this which trivialises our predicament it is no wonder we are in trouble.

    It is not a case of either austerity or something else it is more a case of what sort of austerity do you wish for. In practical terms there is no: difference in policy between Labour & the Coalition: only rhetoric.

    The Coalition understated the depth of the problems Labour left in 2010.

  • Comment number 83.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    This article sounds like a load of Bellocs to me

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    We are all in this together apparrently.

    So here is a challenge for Dodgy Dave and Obnoxious Osborne. Why don't YOU try living on disability benefits which are already being squeezed by budget reduction to social services and have your income challenged by the ATOS hatchet crew regularly Despite being damaged by a stroke and having only 62% heart tissue remaining?
    Tory values indeed. Dump them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    These comments always depress me. They are invariably written from a hopelessly onesided point of view. It is clear that the Tories are struggling and it is equally clear that Labour is blameworthy for the mess. The question is, what now? Let's pull together and stop whingeing

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.


    1. Labours run away credit (lax bank controls)
    2. Labours run away Public Sector
    3. Banks failure (partly from 1 above)
    4. Growth in stealth and other taxes
    5. Excessive Pay higher up and Low pay dismantling the economy
    6. High Profit employers building empires on the back of benefits works need to claim to afford to work.
    7. No one understands economic balance
    8. The blind Greed mantra

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    Why do we continually loose sight of who/what caused all this - our world leading banks? Joe Public continues to pay down the debt they created and yet I hear nothing about sequestering bank profits, cutting their salaries (like many of us have had to endure) and confiscating the bonus monies.
    I guess for the same reasons as we seem unable to deal with the media and newspaper industries!

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    73. sheila coleman
    Labour ignoring that they damaged this country for 13years yet expect 2 half yrs to be long enough for things to get better.

    Actually, Labour oversaw a period of unprecedented growth and prosperity until tory bankers in pinstriped suits wrecked it all. Add together every black gay disabled non-job created by Labour and it doesn't equate to the cost of one gambling banker.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Don't care about Belloc or Motley Crue. All I would like to hear in Autumn staement is Osbourne is resigning because he is clueless!!!!

  • Comment number 75.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    The biggest mistake of politicians was to try to pretend the downturn would be so short as an election cycle It was obvious even as I was saying during the boom that was supposedly according to Gorgon the end of any bust Long boom gets a long bust. It may well be another decade of this flat no pay rise life, so forget wanting more. Even when the deficit spending is cured, then pay debt down decade

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Labour ignoring that they damaged this country for 13years yet expect 2 half yrs to be long enough for things to get better. What is very wrong is that more schools, houses roads etc are to be built. Havent "any" political party the sense to see that more cement means more floods. Stop encouraging a higher birthrate/immigration. Stop benefits at 2 kids. Higher tax for 3 + there are no jobs

  • Comment number 72.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?


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