Autumn Statement: What George Osborne said... and what he meant

Not everything is as it sounds, particularly when the Chancellor is seeking the big prize. John Rentoul marks your card 

John Rentoul
Wednesday 25 November 2015 20:26 GMT
The Chancellor delivers the Autumn Statement to Parliament
The Chancellor delivers the Autumn Statement to Parliament

The only way is up

What he said Five years ago, when I presented our first Spending Review, our economy was in crisis and, as their letter said, there was no money left. Our job then was to rescue Britain. Today our job is to rebuild Britain.

What he meant Memories of the banking crisis are fading, but I can revive them for long enough to make it look as if I am making progress.

From sorrow to borrow

What he said Mr Speaker, we have committed to running a surplus. Today, I can confirm that the four-year public spending plans that I set out are forecast to deliver that surplus, so we don’t borrow for ever and are ready for whatever storms lie ahead.

What he meant Some people said I would have to abandon the target of achieving a surplus. But luckily the forecasts are better than just four months ago and I can raise stealth taxes and borrow a bit more in the middle years of this parliament.

Third time lucky

What he said This is a big Spending Review by a government that does big things. It’s a long-term economic plan for our country’s future.

What he meant This is my third attempt to get the Budget right this year and includes a rubber-burning U-turn, so naturally I claim that it is all part of the momentous grand plan that I had in mind all along.

Pick ’n’ mix

What he said Mr Speaker, when I presented my first Spending Review in 2010 and set this country on the path of living within its means, our opponents claimed that growth would be choked off, a million jobs would be lost and that inequality would rise. Every single one of those predictions have proved to be completely wrong.

What he meant One of those predictions has proved right, one wrong and one premature. But I’ll pick and choose which I’ll judge myself by.

Take that, Macca

What he said Sound public finances are not the enemy of sustained growth – they are its precondition.

What he meant It is nonsense, of course, but it sounds good and who are the public going to believe, John McDonnell or me?

See through the smoke

What he said This improvement in the nation’s finances is due to two things.

What he meant Smoke and mirrors, as Kevin Brennan, the Labour MP, just shouted out opposite.

Credit where it’s due

What he said I’ve had representations that these changes to tax credits should be phased in. I’ve listened to the concerns. And because I’ve been able to announce today an improvement in the public finances, the simplest thing to do is not to phase these changes in, but to avoid them altogether.

What he meant If you’ve got it wrong, make a U-turn, and if you are making a U-turn, just say so and move on.

Up, up and away

What he said To simply argue that public spending must always go up and never be cut is irresponsible.

What he meant A “nod-along” line for the benches behind me, to keep them awake and distract them from the largesse on behalf of the taxpayer that I am about to announce.

Healthy picture

What he said The NHS budget will rise from £101bn today to £120bn by 2020-21. This is the largest investment in the health service since its creation.

What he meant By definition, given that spending on the NHS has gone up faster than prices in nearly every year since it was founded in 1948. But Labour MPs won’t like the grandiosity of the claim, so it’s worth it.

Time to cash in

What he said So we have a clear plan for improving the NHS.

What he meant The plan is: spend more public money on it.

Check out my credentials

What he said There is one part of our NHS that has been neglected for too long – and that’s mental health. I want to thank the All Party Group, led by my Right Honourable Friend for Sutton Coldfield [Andrew Mitchell], the Right Honourable Friend for North Norfolk [Norman Lamb] and Alastair Campbell, for their work. Today, [I announce] £600m additional funding.

What he meant Compassionate pitch for the centre ground, with name checks for Tory, Lib Dem and Labour. Big tent. Big heart.

Don’t blame me, it’s them

What he said Many local authorities are not going to be able to meet growing social care needs unless they have new sources of funding. So those local authorities who are responsible for social care will be able to levy a social care precept of up to 2 per cent on council tax.

What he meant Nobody likes paying taxes and nobody likes chancellors who levy new taxes, so I’ll force local councils to levy them instead. No one will blame me, will they?

Golden oldies

What he said Never again do Britain’s pensioners receive a derisory increase of 75 pence.

What he meant No one actually remembers that 75p pension increase, but they still hate King John for having imposed it, so it allows me to pose as the protector of widows.

That’s progress for you

What he said Another example of progressive government in action. The other side talks of social justice, this side delivers it.

What he meant The Labour Party doesn’t want that social-democratic word, “progressive”, any more, so I’ll have it.

A load of old muck

What he said Our commitment to farming and the countryside is reflected in the protection of funding for our national parks and forests. We’re not making that mistake again.

What he meant This is just to show that I can laugh at myself, in a gentle, prime ministerial way.

One nation, one George

What he said We showed that sound public finances and bold public service reform can help the most disadvantaged. That’s why inequality is down. Child poverty is down. The gender-pay gap is at a record low. And the richest fifth now pay more in taxes than the rest of the country put together. The number claiming unemployment benefits has fallen to the lowest rate since 1975. But we’re not satisfied. We want to see full employment.

What he meant We are going to claim all of Labour’s “one-nation” objectives, and their slogans such as “full employment”. Inequality will soon start to increase, not least because of the measures I’m announcing today, but no one will work that out until I am in Number 10.

Housey housey

What he said The Government will help address the housing crisis in our capital city with a new scheme – London Help to Buy.

What he meant I know it’s piffle and bad economics but it sounds as if I want to help and it might accidentally push house prices up even higher, which London home owners may pretend to be horrified by but they’ll keep voting for it.

Send in the clowns

What he said Frankly, people buying a home to let should not be squeezing out families who can’t afford a home to buy. So I am introducing new rates of Stamp Duty.

What he meant Labour never had the courage to do this, and some of the good people on the benches behind me won’t like it one little bit. But they can hardly accuse me of being a communist when I’m up against those clowns opposite. Score another one for my ruthless populism.

Building for the future

What he said We are the builders.

What he meant I keep hearing “I am the walrus” in my head, but I keep saying it and I keep appearing on building sites in a hi-vis vest and it sort of works.

That’s handy, Andy

What he said I’ve had representations from the shadow Home Secretary [Andy Burnham] that police budgets should be cut by up to 10 per cent. But I am today announcing there will be no cuts in the police budget at all.

What he meant I do like rabbits, and hats, and brutal take-downs of my political opponents. What a political genius I am. Now it’s time to start planning for the EU referendum.

A better future – for me

What he said We were elected as a One Nation government. Today we deliver the Spending Review of a One Nation government: the guardians of economic security; the protectors of national security; the builders of our better future. The government; the mainstream representatives of the working people of Britain.

What he meant A bit like Tony Blair. A bit like David Cameron. I am the future now. Vote for me.

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