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UK Politics

Autumn Statement: What he said - and what he meant

Our writer reads between the lines of George Osborne's Commons address

1. Let's pretend, shall we?

Let me start by placing squarely before the House... the economic situation facing our country.

Much of Europe appears to be heading into a recession... We will do whatever it takes to protect Britain from this debt storm... At every opportunity helping families with the cost of living.

What he meant

Let me start by claiming to face up "squarely" to the falling masonry of the eurozone, collapsing around our ears. If the eurozone is reduced to rubble, all the rest of what I'm about to say is beside the point, but let us pretend, shall we? "Helping families with the cost of living" sounds sympathetic, but you can only do this by giving them money, which I haven't got, apart from £50 a household for South West Water customers to pay them not to vote Lib Dem.

2. The only bit of good news

The central forecast we publish today from the independent Office for Budget Responsibility does not predict a recession here in Britain.

What he meant

I'll keep calling it "independent" because it's the only bit of good news I've got and I want people to believe it – although the OBR does say it's all academic if the euro melts down, but I'll read that bit out really quickly.

3. Not quite independent

The Treasury today estimates that borrowing by 2014-15 would have been running at well over £100bn a year – and Britain would have borrowed an additional £100bn in total over the period.

What he meant

I cannot say that these estimates are "independent" because it is entirely political to guess what would have happened if Labour were still in power, but I'm hoping people won't notice the difference.

4. Don't be frightened

In that Budget we set out a tough fiscal mandate...We supplemented it with a fixed debt target – get national debt as a proportion of national income falling by 2015-16. I set plans to meet these rules a year early. That headroom disappeared.

What he meant

Must be careful not to spook the markets with this one. This sounds much better than, "Oops, our repayment plans have slipped by a whole year".

5. Robbing Peter to pay Paul

I also want to protect those who are not able to work because of their disabilities and those, who through no fault of their own, have lost jobs and are trying to find work. So I can confirm that we will uprate working age benefits...

What he meant

My press office did a brilliant job of convincing journalists that Vince Cable was upset that I was going to reduce the uprating, so my beneficient generosity took everyone by surprise – fortunately the Treasury brains managed to claw back a lot of the money elsewhere in the tax credit system.

6. At least I'm trying

We have developed with the Bank of England a mechanism to allocate funding to banks, based on how much they increase lending to firms. There will be a clear audit trail so they comply.

What he meant

The man from the Bank of England said they could make it work, but I didn't like the way he grinned when he said it. "Clear audit trail" means I can blame them if it doesn't, but the point here is that it looks like I'm doing something to get the banks lending again. And I hope we get the credit for at least trying something.

7. Forget Robin Hood

 It is this Government's policy to ensure that London is the world's pre-eminent financial centre.

What he meant

I know Dave said he would love to bring in a Robin Hood tax if only all other countries would, but they won't, so let me spell it out for some of the softer bozos on the benches behind me.

8. Blind them with figures

I need to raise the bank levy to 0.088 per cent... We will also take action to stop some large firms using complex asset-backed pension funding arrangements to claim double the tax relief that was intended.

What he meant

You need a bit in the middle where you blind them with some double-entry bookkeeping. It all helps convince them that you know what you are talking about.

9. We all need a plan

See what countries like China or Brazil are building, and you'll also see why we risk falling behind the rest of the world. So we are publishing the National Infrastructure Plan...

What he meant

Yes, I know we used to have fun in the innocent days of opposition, mocking Labour for its addiction to five-year plans for tractor production, but I see what they were doing now. Can't beat a good plan for giving the impression that you are doing something about whatever it is.

10. I'm backing Britain

We need to put to work the many billions of pounds that British people save, in British pension funds, and get those savings invested in British projects.

What he meant

Did you see what I did there? Remember when Gordon Brown got into trouble with his own side for quoting that BNP slogan, "British jobs for British workers"? Well, that'll show them. And if I read this list of roads out very fast it will sound impressive and people will think that I'm going to pave over the whole countryside with portraits of Franklin D Roosevelt.

11. Forget windmills, it's jobs

We won't save the planet by shutting down steel mills, sme-lters and paper manufacturers. That'll just export valuable jobs.

What he meant

You know all that stuff about being the greenest government ever? Well, I wish Dave had never said it because it means that Chris Huhne always has a foghorn answer when I want to save money from all those subsidies for windmills. But I think I've just about killed it with the jobs argument.

12. Well done whatsisname

 We will cut the burden of health and safety rules on small firms...It's no good endlessly comparing ourselves with other countries. Europe is pricing itself out of the world economy.

What he meant

That's a sound bite tailor-made for the Daily Mail; well done to whatsisname for coming up with it. "The entire Continent is pricing itself out of the world economy" should shut up all those social democrats in the Treasury who think Sweden is so totally marvellous.

13. I need my allies

If we're really going to change the economic performance of this country and tackle Britain's decades-long problems with productivity, then we have to transform our school system...My right honourable friend [Michael Gove] is doing more to make that happen than anyone who has ever done his job before him.

What he meant

I will need Cabinet allies in the battles to come; who knows, one day I might even need a Chancellor of the Exchequer?

14. Here's what I did last time

Tax on petrol will be a full 10p lower than it would have been without our action in the Budget and this autumn. Families will save £144 on filling up the average family car by the endof next year.

What he meant

I don't want to cut petrol taxes this time, but do you think they'll notice if I just tell them about the cuts I made last time?