It won’t become clear for who knows how long, but that might have been the best Autumn Statement since Gordon Brown’s Find The Lady games in the 2000s.
The event was billed as filling a “fiscal black hole” of £60-odd billion but the only thing that registered on your Gallery correspondent’s ear was ever-higher, ever-greater, ever-more lurid spending commitments. Billions for pensioners, beneficiaries, science research, wind farmers, the nuclear industry, small businesses, the NHS, schools, poor people, cold people, people who can’t afford vests and sweaters, and, gloriously, bicycle assembly enterprises and those who make car seats.
Claimants are to get an extra £10 billion. Pensioners keep the “triple lock”. And there’s an extra £55 billion going to – some group or other, the note becomes illegible at that point, perhaps the will to live, or be sceptical, had crashed.
From the statement, more was being given than taken.
There was talk of £140 billion extra to be spent on energy bills, equivalent to another NHS. There was £6 billion to insulate houses. There was no cut to the £115 billion capital budget. “Instead of being ideological, I’m going to be practical!” he said, announcing £2.3 billion for our world-leading schools superpower.
And the painful parts? The tax take will rise by 1% of GDP over five years. While retaining the most generous tax allowances in Europe.
The praise he directed at the Office of Budget Responsibility suggests he’s at least taken the edge off their expert leftiness. Unless they’ve taken the edge off his Treasury conservatism. No one asked from which magic tree is this money – or “money” – was coming from.
For light relief, the Chancellor had a number of well-crafted laugh lines. “Credibility can’t be taken for granted,” probably did best. But, closely run by, “Singaporean efficiencies”, and, “To be British is to be compassionate.” (Speak for yourself, mush.) “The enormous respect in which Britain is held in, in the rest of the world” went too far. Comedy must be grounded in reality.
He has such a deadpan delivery it was hard to say if he was joking when he told us we were on track to become not only “a renewable energy superpower” but a “science superpower” as well.
“You don’t have to choose between stability and growth,” he said. This caused a great cry of Labour disbelief and an even greater roar of Tory support: “With the Conservatives you get both!”
It’s always worth repeating: Tories are the Simpson’s chewing gum – the one that “cleans AND straightens your teeth.”
What was the job of the day? To persuade the markets that all was under control. That debt-to-GDP would fall in reasonable time, that things would get back to normal in his cool, technocratic, managerial hands.
It’s what we all need, to believe that someone knows how things work and that they know what they’re doing. That there is such a thing as “sound money”. That the great, communal hallucination of financial reality may be preserved.
In Guido’s view, the Chancellor did exactly that. (Pound crashes, housing market collapses, the global financial architecture disappears into the Pacific Trench)