Wednesday, December 5, 2012
In a quiet moment after his disaster budget last March George Osborne would have peeled off his blood-stained shirt and looked at the ugly scars on his back.
Indeed, steeling himself for the autumn statement today would have required a detailed study. It seems whatever investigation was carried out is already paying dividends.
In March there was a spate of leaks which meant when the budget actually emerged the good news had all been reported, leaving journalists to focus on the bad news.
This time media sources have been tight-lipped. Leaks that plagued the budget have been plugged. Only snippets have been carefully fed out.
But we will not know whether another more fundamental lesson of the March budget has been learnt until later today – and it is on this point that the autumn statement will stand or fall.
It is that the electorate accept the need for an austerity programme and probably will not question the chancellor’s decision to elongate it today, as long as he can avoid the totemic news items that paint his party out to be “the nasty Tories”.
After all, the March budget too saw the austerity programme extended, but there was no hoo-ha. No one really challenged it apart from Labour, who challenge austerity generally.
Instead people got angry about ‘pasty tax’, ‘granny tax’ and the decision to lower the top rate of income tax for high earners.
What it means for Osborne, is that a decision this time round to extend austerity to 2018 does not have to be painful. Even missing his target to reduce debt as a share of GDP by 2015, which may cost the UK its triple A credit rating, will not prove terminal.
Most people in the country, while accepting the need austerity of sorts, were not aware when his original austerity programme was meant to end anyway.
Equally, if you asked them what Osborne’s rule on debt/GDP was, most would not be able to tell you.
But if Osborne has not yet learnt how small measures can develop into symbolic stories, then today’s statement will leave him nursing more wounds by the end of the week.