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Autumn Statement: What Osborne said - and what he meant

John Rentoul reads between the lines of the Chancellor's promises

John Rentoul
Wednesday 03 December 2014 15:36 GMT

The Chancellor delivered his last Autumn Statement before May's general election. He made a lot of big promises - but what was he really saying?

"Today, against a difficult global backdrop, I can report higher growth, lower unemployment, falling inflation, and a deficit that is falling too. Today a deficit that is half what we inherited."

David Cameron has just said at Prime Minister’s Questions that it was cut by a third. I used to criticise Gordon Brown for this old sales trick: 50 per cent off prices that have been bumped up only recently. But needs must. I cannot admit that I have achieved the target set by Alistair Darling at the last election.

"The warning lights are flashing over the global economy. Japan is in recession, the Eurozone is stagnating, and the geopolitical risks are rising."

Not as pretty as the Northern Lights, but the warning lights are just as useful a distraction from the failure of my plan to eliminate the deficit entirely by now.

"In response to the caricature that some like to draw, that these jobs are being created only in London, that they are part-time with women losing out, I say look at the facts. How many of the jobs being created are full-time? 85 per cent. Where are the jobs being created fastest right now? In Scotland and the North. And what’s happening to the gender pay gap? It’s just fallen to its lowest level in the entire history of this country. That’s progressive politics in action."

This is the stuff I really enjoy. Using selective statistics to pretend to be a better socialist than the other side. They are so used to thinking I’m their class enemy you can see they cannot make sense of it at all. Keep them unsettled.

"The compositional effect of many more people finding work, particularly young people, is weighing down on overall average earnings."

Mind you, Ed Balls is completely right that wages aren’t keeping up with prices, but if I throw in a bit of compositional waffle they won’t realise what I’m saying.

So borrowing falls every year. It falls slightly less than expected in the first two years but then falls slightly more than expected in the four years after that. So we end in a marginally stronger position than expected at the Budget.

More pain now, jam tomorrow. I’ve missed all my targets and I’m going to miss some more, but after two more years I will start to hit them. Honest.

Out of the red and into the black for the first time in a generation – a country that inspires confidence around the world because it seeks to live within its means.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Tomorrow never comes. I hope to be in a different job by 2018-19.

"We continue to meet the debt mandate a year late and the fiscal mandate two years early."

They will have no idea what I am talking about, but it sounds very technical and, better than that, it sounds as if I am being very fair, listing my failures as well as my successes. As if.

"Britain back living within its means. Our long term economic plan on course."

A course I set this morning when I told the Cabinet about it.

"I do not hide from the House that in the coming years there are going to have to be very substantial savings in public spending."

I am hiding from the House what I promised to have done by now, but shall go for some pretend honesty about hard decisions in the next parliament, the need for which I once promised would have vanished by now.

"Next week we will publish a new Charter for Budget Responsibility that will reinforce our commitment to finish the job in the next Parliament, and we will ask the House to vote on it in the New Year."

This is the sort of nonsense Gordon Brown got up to in the end days, putting targets, such as for overseas aid or climate change, into legislation and then challenging the other side to vote against it. Gordon Brown, a great statesman. We owe him a great debt, haha.

"Decisions to control public spending are never easy. But the impact on people’s lives when economic stability is lost is far, far greater. And I’ve always believed we should be straight about what’s required to restore stability and what’s then required to stay on course."

I’m now deep enough into the Statement to say “I’ve always believed we should be straight” and the opposition will be too befuddled to laugh me to scorn.

"The end of our operations in Afghanistan allows us to save an additional £200 million this year from the special military reserve."

Peace dividend. Mustn’t use the words peace or dividend. Must pay my respects to the brave men and women of our armed services. But I’ve got more money to spend.

"This morning I announced we will repay the entire outstanding national debt incurred to fight the First World War."

That’s how long it takes to pay off this stuff, so why you expected instant results from me I don’t know. Talk about unrealistic expectations. You can’t blame politicians for making unrealistic promises.

"Today I am introducing a 25 per cent tax on profits generated by multinationals from economic activity here in the UK which they then artificially shift out of the country… Low taxes; but taxes that will be paid."

A Diverted Profits Tax. Sounds great, this. Who could be in favour of diverting profits? Some of these whizzkids in the Treasury are really quite clever.

"That’s multinationals and banks paying their fair share. So should people aggressively trying to avoid tax."

Aggressive people who avoid tax need to calm down and hand it over.

"To tackle the continued use of enveloped properties to avoid stamp duty, I am increasing the new annual charge by 50 per cent above inflation on properties worth over £2 million."

You must put a stamp on your envelope if you want to buy an expensive property. This new rule will confuse foreigners greatly.

"The net contribution of the richest 20 per cent will be larger than the remaining 80 per cent put together – proving we are all in this together."

I had a bet with Penny Mordaunt that I could get “we are all in this together” into the speech. Do not tell the Mail on Sunday.

"Our ambition is to build a northern powerhouse as a complement to the strength of our capital city, where we bring together our great cities of the North."

Powerhouse is a measure of engine power. As much power as a house. Less than a horse, but harder to stop. My car is a four-powerhouse model.

"There are those who have said it was impossible to control public spending, improve public services, reduce the deficit and still cut income taxes for hard working families on low and middle incomes."

Those who have said it was impossible are right. But you can get away with it if you just pretend that you never had a plan to abolish the deficit altogether by now.

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