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Autumn Statement sketch: Osborne plots his journey

 

 

 

 

WORDS: SAM MACRORY

 


It's a good thing that George Osborne got a lift to the Commons in a sturdy ministerial Land Rover this morning, because he clearly finds travelling a worrying experience.

A few minutes into his Autumn Statement, the Chancellor had warned of the "hard road" he had set out on, boasted a cunning sense of direction which saw him swerve "the road to ruin", and insisted that he was "on the right track." And when you're on the right track, "turning back now would be a disaster." This is not a man who likes leaving the house.

Later on, the Chancellor said something about "automatic stabilisers" – they sounded pretty essential given Mr Osborne's nervous steps.

So he poured money into the potholes to ease his fears: a £378 million upgrade of a section of the A1; a dualling of a section of the A30; £270 million to get rid of bottlenecks. Anything to help him on his way.

It's easy to see how he might get lost. The Chancellor raced through endless facts and figures, skated up and down countless graphs, and shouted out more numbers than a bingo caller. It was almost as if he was trying to baffle people with figures which were, for the most part, unremittingly gloomy.

But Mr Osborne certainly knows his way around Conservative constituencies, stopping off to make generous visits to a number of MPs. Jackie Doyle Price got a nod for her campaigning work on an M25 junction. Robert Halfon nearly exploded with excitement when the Chancellor announced that the 3 pence fuel rise wouldn't just be delayed but cut all together. Boris Johnson was given a pair of pre-Christmas presents with a Northern Line extension and revamping of the Olympics Village.

Mr Osborne also remembered the importance of identifying dividing lines on the map, telling MPs that a mansion tax would be “intrusive and expensive to levy”. Tories cheered. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg rolled his eyes. That's another six months of pretty-pleasing gone to waste.

At least the Liberal Democrats got to celebrate when Mr Osborne confirmed more people would see their income tax cut. A gentleman's agreement seems to decree that the Tories didn't cheer that one; Lib Dems bounced excitedly on their benches before bursting into an reedy cheer.

Poor Ed Balls seemed to have been baffled by the onslaught of gloom. Falling for the oldest pantomime trick in the book, the crafty switching of the 'oh no you didn't/oh yes you did' accusation, the Shadow Chancellor began by triumphantly declaring that the deficit "is not rising!"

With Tory jeers ringing in his ears, Mr Balls never really recovered. His supporting audience fell silent and he was reduced to making terrible jokes about Nadine Dorries' appearance on a jungle-based reality TV show. "He's the Chancellor.... can't someone get him out of here?" Mr Balls asked sheepishly. Most people were wondering if the request wouldn't have been a little more apt for whoever wrote that joke – and for Mr Balls himself.

In the case of the Shadow Chancellor, that's one road to ruin which George Osborne is more than happy to encourage a journey on.

 

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