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29 October 2018

Jeremy Corbyn says nothing new – but Hammond’s Labour-lite offer means he doesn’t have to

The most significant response to a rival’s economic prospectus came not from the leader of the opposition, but the Chancellor.

By Patrick Maguire

The leader of the opposition’s job of responding to the Budget has been described as one of the hardest in British politics – in no small part down to the fact that they do not have the chance to see the Chancellor’s red book before they get to their feet.

Jeremy Corbyn, however, had a much easier task this afternoon. Regardless of the small print of Philip Hammond’s plans, it was a foregone conclusion that they would fail to match both Theresa May’s promise to end austerity and Labour’s own proposals on the economy.

So despite the fact that Corbyn is no natural Commons performer, his response more or less delivered itself, and its flavour was as predictable as that of a Budget which saw the Chancellor encroach gingerly onto his turf.

His main message was a predictable, simple and familiar one: “Austerity is not over.” He went on to describe Hammond’s announcements as “half measures and quick fixes”, which made for an effective rejoinder to a statement which saw the Chancellor offer struggling schools money for “little extras”, and pledged only half of the £2bn in new money demanded by his backbenchers to ease the Universal Credit crisis. On the whole, the response was nothing that anyone who has seen Corbyn do Prime Minister’s Questions anytime over the past year hadn’t seen before.

Arguably, however, his wasn’t the most significant response to a rival’s economic prospectus today – that distinction goes to Hammond and the Tories. The Chancellor’s statement was front-loaded with announcements of a distinctly Corbynite-lite hue: a new, if not particularly substantial tax on tech firms, increasing spending, ending PFI. So while Corbyn did not say anything new, the very certainty that he wouldn’t to a large extent shaped Hammond’s offer – and will ensure that Labour keeps winning the battle of ideas.

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