The chancellor's speech set out a coherent and often radical plan for changing Britainby Bronwen Maddox / October 15, 2015 / Leave a comment
The chance to build a bridge and point to it after you’ve left office—that is the kind of thing that US senators sometimes say gives them the best job in American politics (with more practical power than the President). The clunky refrain “we are the builders” with which George Osborne hammered home his speech to the Conservative Party conference is not a high point of modern political rhetoric, but it has its uses: he’s offering a very tangible legacy, built before your eyes.
The central planks of the Chancellor’s speech set out ambitious goals for a modern country—and for modernising it further. More devolution of power to cities and councils, enabling them to compete for businesss; more apprenticeships; and a commitment both to defence and aid. The tone was international, confident, often radical, not invoking Broken Britain but acknowledging a list of problems which he proposed practically to fix.
The question will now be whether the Chancellor can deliver on the construction contract he has written, as well as on the wider goal he shares with David Cameron of seizing the centre ground of British politics, or whether he will be tripped up both by the severity of the cuts he proposes and by economic factors beyond his control.
The building pledges themselves are not without hazard. Houses are almost the easiest, given the consensus behind the need (see our cover story, by Andrew Adonis, the Labour peer last month). Sceptical mutterings that money for the Northern Powerhouse might never appear may have been dispelled, at least for now, by the publicity of Osborne’s commitment.
But he left the case for his proposed new National Infrastructure Commission undeveloped; the most substantial thing about it is Adonis, lured from the Labour benches to be its first chairman (becoming a crossbencher in the process). Without money, it can do little, except evaluate projects to be run by Whitehall and paid for by private money, often foreign. The aim is presumably that it gives impetus and endorsement to projects, including the most controversial (and Adonis is firmly in favour of HS2). But as John Kay’s demolition job on Howard Davies’s and the Airport Commission’s…