The Chancellor has worked hard for this moment. He has been through the most agonising of economic downturns that any modern British Chancellor has had to face. Now comes the beginning of the payoff.
I was expecting George Osborne to have the grin of a Cheshire cat but he didn’t. Admittedly, for a while he sounded a bit like Gordon Brown in his pomp, with boasts about the UK being the fastest-growing member of the G7. But the watchword of this Autumn Statement was responsible recovery. This was wise. And clever. At this stage of the political cycle good economic management coincides with good politics.
/Having made the macro decision not to loosen the purse strings, which I think was correct, there was little of substance that the Chancellor could announce. As he put it, the Statement was fiscally neutral, that is to say, any giveaways were balanced by clawbacks.
But there were some useful measures included. The cap on welfare spending was overdue (and put Labour on the spot) and the measures on business rates and cutting National Insurance for younger employees were good supply-side measures.
But the main players in this drama were not concrete measures but slippery estimates of shadowy economic concepts. Yet what the economy gives it can also take away. The Chancellor has been wise not to yield to the temptation to spend some of the gains that the growing economy appears to be releasing for him. For a start, as he pointed out, the deficit remains extremely large; 7pc of GDP on the most reliable measure.
I rate George Osborne highly and think he has by far the best financial brain in the cabinet. However, following Gordon Brown’s debt mountain and an exceptionally tough recession, there is little in the way of a national feel-good factor among the electorate. In this environment for the UK or any other democracy it is extremely difficult to gain a second consecutive election victory. Moreover the current electoral system works against the Conservative Party, unless Scotland pulls out of the UK before the 2015 election.
However, Angela Merkel was recently re-elected in Germany, not least because the European Union’s powerful export leader is in so much better shape than most of the other EU nations. The UK Government is understandably focussing on economic policies, including exports as we have see with David Cameron’s trade mission to China this week. They will need that, plus some serious fracking to lower energy prices, and a great deal of luck as Roger Bootle also points out in his closing comment.Back to top