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 111.

    mad-nad-dorris for chancellor, at least we'd have a laugh... Cameron and Osborne just make me cry...

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    Stan 100 You're a glutton for punishment.
    You admit that the same would have happened due to the financial crisis under Tory or Labour. So your claim it was Labour's fault /mess rests solely on the (undeniable) fact that GB and Labour just happened to be the Government at that time. Sounds like they were unlucky rather than culpable. (TBF Cameron was also extremely unlucky to become PM in 2010.)

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    Last time i remember the tories saying lets all pull together Cyril Smith went to far

    osbourne & cameron not motley crue nor brlloc ... but possibly two 3rds of the 3 stoogies is better

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    Dear George why should i pay with taxes on my utility bills the cost of investment if future energy supplies at £100 pa yet we the people who are paying these surcharges do not get a nationalised utilities company and then i have to pay at an over inflated price for power from the sources i have just paid to have built why am i paying money to foreign companies for infrastructure that i paid for

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    Write a song around these words and get George Osborne to sing it.

    "ALL tax returns should be open to public scrutiny - no exceptions."

    "They are in Sweden and it results in less corruption and a better, richer and happier society."

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Why accept this as any sort of "leadership"?

    I loathe Motley Crue (Rock? I think not) but would trust them over any politician.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    Return all utilities and transport back to public ownership, then prices could come down, as there would be no shareholders and greedy overpaid executives creaming profits from all of us. It could then be run at cost, plus investment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Stop blaming the previous government, the problems were caused by world banking and financial institutions. The tories if you care to remember agreed with labour spending. Anyone who remembers thatcher will know she destroyed all, patients sleeping on trollies in corridors, school maintenance stopped nurses sacked, reposessions, Industries closed. This lot are going to worse. Never trust a tory.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    #100 Stanilic, the seeds of the crisis were sown when Thatcher removed the seperation which had existed between Retail Banks and Investment Banks, allowing money to be switched between one section and another.
    Once that divide had been removed, no regulation on earth would have helped!
    The rot started under M Thatcher - it just took a while for the bubble to pop!

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    No100 stan,
    'No doubt.. Tory Gov'.. no different'
    You seem to be coming round to the view that the last government were 'in office' but not in power.
    Would the mess, therefore, have been the same regardless who were in the ministerial cars? particularly in view of the fact that David was committed to matching, and indeed increasing Labour's spending plans.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    When the conservatives came to power 2.5 years ago I watched a lady being interviewed on tv. the interview was about the hunt law. The lady said David, meaning Cameron of course is rather busy at the moment but i am sure when he gets time he will repeal the law on hunting.
    These people are not real ,
    oh it was only the economy that he was working on,
    (budget more misery no doubt.)

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.


    The crisis was caused by the failure of governments to regulate the behaviour of the banks. In the UK the Labour government had changed a regulatory system that had worked safely for 300 years. It collapsed.

    I have no doubt that if there had been a Tory government in 2005/10 that it would have been no different: but it wasn't was it?

    Labour screwed it up. We all know that so stop pretending

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    The crisis was caused by the collapse of the international financial system.
    Do you think the 'global crisis' would have been cancelled if 'Pasty George' had been in Downing Street?
    Don't be so ridiculous.
    Do you not remember, David wanted more spending, and George wanted less regulation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    The Autumn statement will be about the continued abdication of responsibility by the state of it obligations to the less fortunate. It will, of course, be wrapped up in the discredited (even by the IMF, no less) 'austerity' so the blind sheep don't spot the wolf.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Ah, speculation, don't you just love it? Well no, actually. As for Labour being that different on deficit reduction, the Darling plan wasn't all that much different. But this lot have thrown a lot idealogical 'heavy lifting' into the mix what with pay freezes, pensions being uprated on CPI instead of RPI and mega welfare reforms to be run on shaky IT platforms. There's a lot more to come!

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Whatever the Autumn Statement says, it won't be good.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.


    How do you know they were all Tory bankers? I think Lord Myners might disagree with you.

    The government was Labour, the regulators - and I use that word advisedly - had been organised and appointed by Labour, the decision to call the top of the market was down to a Labour Chancellor.

    So what did we get: failure, failure and failure. The financial crisis in the UK was Labour's failure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    90. stanilic
    You are all indicted.

    No we aren't. Despite a constant, daily bombardment of letters asking me to take out credit sent to me by the high street banks, I borrowed nothing. More worrying was the fact that they sent the same letters to my ex, a woman who makes Kweku Adoboli look fiscally responsible. That wasn't the government's fault, it was due to the pure greed of tory bankers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    All well and good someone on a high horse or journalist down south spouting what is Osbourne going to do. At the end of the day its joe public that takes the brunt, by losing their jobs, homes and the clothes off their back. If you want to really know what this government is doing you need to step over the m25 and head north, where the majority of people live. The SE hasnt suffered yet, will it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Not happy with the constant victimisation of the poor, the statement will be really hamming the disabled instead. To say I despise them would be an understatement, but the Mods would (quite correctly) not allow me to say what I really think about the Tories and their loathsome supporters - they've crossed a line now..


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