In one of the last set-piece political events before the general election, George Osborne will deliver his Autumn Statement today.
Unsurprisingly with a general election around the bend, the Chancellor has approached this pre-budget in a significantly political way. So what can we expect?
First, we already know a great deal of what will be included in the Statement. These are all the positive spending promises and plans for the future. The headline policies include:
- A “roads revolution”: £15bn to be spent on new road funding in England.
- Funding the NHS: a pledge to spend an extra £2bn a year on the NHS.
- A new garden city in Bicester, Oxfordshire: up to 13,000 new homes to be built there.
- Flood defences: £2.3bn investment.
- Helping SMEs: a near £1bn boost for small businesses.
- Reform business rates: a review into scrapping the controversial tax on small firms.
A number of these plans have been condemned by the opposition as “re-announcements”, because the money has been pledged before, and also of “recycling funds”, because most of this is money being moved around and scraped together from further efficiency savings in Whitehall rather than being new spending money.
Yet in spite of this, these policies are the preceding ‘good cop’ to what will undoubtedly be George Osborne’s slightly gloomier cop when he addresses the Commons this afternoon. He will have to address how the economic recovery has not played out exactly, nor nearly as quickly, as first planned.
In light of this, his strategy for delivering the Statement will be to communicate to voters to “stay the course” with the Conservatives, to take the country gradually back to prosperity, rather than handing the Treasury to Labour, which is still the party less trusted on the economy. He will say:
Our long-term economic plan is working. I say: we stay the course. We stay the course to prosperity.
Whether this ‘good cop, steady cop’ tactic will work depends a great deal on Labour’s response. The party has been hitting the Chancellor hard on the fact that he has failed to keep his promises on fixing the economy. The shadow chancellor Ed Balls commented:
David Cameron and George Osborne have now failed every test and broken every promise they made on the economy.
They promised living standards would rise, but while millionaires have got a huge tax cut working people are £1600 a year worse off under the Tories. This cost-of-living crisis is why the Chancellor will have to admit he has broken his promise to balance the books by next year.
Labour will have to hammer this message home during its response to the Chancellor today.