Saturday, November 26, 2011

Osborne's date with political destiny

‘Make or break’ is doubtless an overused term in politics. Many are the times when it is said that a politician needs to make the “speech of his life” on such and such a day, only for the same old cliché to be trotted out again the next time he makes one.

Yet for Chancellor George Osborne, this Tuesday’s autumn statement on the economy is genuinely shaping up to be one of those dates with political destiny.

For years, Mr Osborne has been the man with the plan as far as the Tory Party is concerned, and his plan on taking over at No 11 Downing Street in May last year was straightforward and simple.

It was: sort out the deficit in the first couple of years, wait for economic growth to start kicking in again, sprinkle some carefully-targeted tax cuts around, and then win the next election hands down.

But it’s all gone horribly wrong. Far from providing a platform for new growth, 18 months of austerity measures have pitchforked the economy back towards the ultimate horror of a double-dip recession.

As such Mr Osborne’s masterplan for economic recovery – and outright Tory victory in 2015 – now looks hopelessly optimistic.

And of course, it is not just the fate of the economy and the government that is at stake here, but Mr Osborne’s own chances of succeeding David Cameron as Tory leader.

If recovery comes and the Tories win an overall majority next time, there will be nothing to stand between him and No 10. But if they lose – or are forced into another five years of coalition - it will be Mr Osborne who gets the blame.

All of which make Tuesday’s statement if not quite the “speech of his life” then certainly the most important he has made since that Tory conference address of 2007 which frightened Gordon Brown off from holding an election.

To succeed, he must somehow manage to reconcile two seemingly contradictory goals.

Firstly – and this almost goes without saying - he must manage to reassure the markets that the government remains serious about tackling the deficit.

But equally, he now needs to reassure an increasingly sceptical public that the government has a plan for growth – if not a ‘Plan B’ as Labour still insists on calling it, then at least a Plan A-Plus.

It is already clear from several strategically-placed leaks that switching more spending into capital investment in infrastructure is going to be central to Mr Osborne’s plans.

It all seems a far cry from the days when Margaret Thatcher commented sniffily: “You and I come by road or rail, economists travel on infrastructure” – but no matter.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander gave an insight into the government’s thinking in a speech to the National Association of Housebuilders on Wednesday.

"We are shaking the Whitehall tree to make sure no-one is stockpiling capital that can be put to good use today. That's why next week's announcement will switch funds to capital spending plans,” he said.

This is all of a piece with Mr Cameron’s speech on Monday setting out measures to boost the housing market, both by encouraging the construction of more homes and by helping first-time buyers obtain mortgages.

And yesterday Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg got in on the act by pre-announcing a £1bn scheme to help the young unemployed, apparently to be paid for by further savings in other areas.

The risk for the government is that it will all be too little, too late to counteract the chilling effects of 18 months of what Labour leader Ed Miliband this week called “austerity rhetoric.”

But if he can use Tuesday’s statement to get the economy moving again at last, then it may yet all come right – for the coalition, for Mr Osborne, and most importantly for the long-suffering British public.

free web site hit counter

No comments: