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News, gossip and insight from PoliticsHome Editor Paul Waugh

Osborne's Opportunity

Carrying his (brand new) red Budget box, George Osborne left his West London home today with an inscrutable, poker-faced expression.

In fact, the main PR job of a Chancellor in austere times is to ensure you don't smile. Osborne will try his damnedest not to even betray a hint of a smirk as he holds his box aloft for the "money shot" outside Number 11 later. Very deliberately, the message is that Gordon's grins are very much a thing of the past.

The Chancellor will give a short speech to the special Budget Cabinet in Number 10 and we can expect much desk-banging approval from his colleagues.

Meanwhile, there's a Budget Day avalanche of advice for Osborne in this morning's papers and on the blogs.

Not all of it is welcome. Simon Heffer has a coruscating piece in the Telegraph, dissing those (his colleagues included) who think that Osborne is a shoo-in for next Tory leader. Dismissing the string of micro-measures that have been pre-briefed, Heff says "none of this, however, adds up to a growth strategy".

But I note that there is much, much better news for the Chancellor in the FT. Gavin Davies* - former Goldman Sachs man and key ally of Gordon Brown in years gone by - declares his support for Osborne's overall deficit-cutting strategy and says he should "stick with Plan A".

Davies naturally has a couple of provisos, such as the need to have a Plan B in place and the need for the Bank of England not to raise interest rates.

Yet his overall message is manna from heaven for the Treasury. He says that despite worries about growth and inflation, Osborne's tight fiscal policy "remains the best chance of avoiding a sovereign debt crisis while ensuring acceptable increases in GDP".

Crucially, Davies says that Labour was "sailing close to the wind" with the second highest budget deficit in the OECD. He adds that the Chancellor's decision to reduce the risks of a sovereign debt crisis at the expense of greater risks on growth was "a controversial, but defensible, decision".

All of this flies in the face of Labour policy. Yet it will strike a chord with some Blairite Labour MPs - and floating voters - who believe that the party can only regain its economic credibility if it sets out a proper plan to tackling the deficit.

Today's a big day for Osborne. But with Ed Miliband having to respond for the Opposition, it's also a big day for Labour.

A political Chancellor to his fingertips, I'd be amazed if Osborne doesn't cite Gavyn Davies at some point in the debate today.

The man whose private advice helped get Labour back on the road to economic credibility in Opposition, the man whose wife was Gordon Brown's chief aide for more than 20 years, now backs Coalition policy. What a turn up.

 

 

*FOOTNOTE: It's worth pointing out that Davies was a member of Ken Clarke's 'wise men' from 1992-7. No one doubted where his real political loyalties lay, however. He was, after all, a Labour party donor.

One of Brown's first photo-ops with then girlfriend Sarah Macaulay was at a birthday party held for the son of Gavyn Davies and Sue Nye. Gordon, of course, doesn't like using children as "props". But he did then.

 

UPDATE: Davies has just posted on the FT's Alphaville blog that Treasury officials have been unusually under-employed in recent days as they had to complete the Red Book a while back to give the OBR time to assess it.

He also says the Treasury was on tenterhooks last night waiting for the Queen's Royal Assent to a bill finalising the official status of the OBR.

 

10.30AM UPDATE: A Treasury mole offers some detail on the Chancellor's new box. It is actually on loan from the National Archive, who commissioned it to be made to replace the Gladstone box. The Gladstone box had to be 'retired' because it was deemed so old that it had to be preserved for the nation.

The main difference between the two is that Gladstone's box had VR on it. Today's has ER embossed on the side.

 

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