The devil could be in the detail, but the bigger picture is still bright for the Chancellorby Ryan Shorthouse / November 26, 2015 / Leave a comment
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They call him Octopus Osborne. For his tentacles reach into other government departments, his protégées in key positions across Whitehall. Yesterday, in the Autumn Statement, we also saw the Chancellor sprawl across a vast public policy space. There was something for mental health, roads, science, childcare, women’s charities, museums, even tax credit claimants. Something for everyone. All in it together.
Clever politics indeed. Nearly all the bases are covered, muting critics and quashing Labour leads. Jeremy Corbyn, upon becoming Leader of the Opposition, showed that one of his key and unique priorities would be mental health, appointing a new Shadow Cabinet level Minister for Mental Health. Well, yesterday, the Chancellor announced an extra £600m for mental health services.
Déjà vu. Ed Miliband wanted a higher minimum wage of £8 per hour by 2020. So Osborne went on to promise the “National Living Wage,” at £9 per hour. At the last election, Labour wanted to make companies train an apprentice for every foreigner they hired. Yesterday, the Chancellor announced a 0.5 per cent “apprenticeship levy” on the wage bill of large employers.
Octopus Osborne can change colour. Small state crusader one moment, all taxes and targeted subsidies another. Tough talk on the economy sometimes. Other times, progressive pronouncements on ending global poverty or supporting the arts. Nearly all policy areas and mechanisms are embraced. It’s hard to pin him down—his ideology, his temperament, his priorities. Just when you thought he was going to stubbornly persist with cutting tax credits, he retreats. The rumour was that there would be cuts to the police and to Further Education. Neither happened. He loves to surprise. The opposition, meanwhile, are now finding it difficult to paint a convincing picture of him, to convey to the public a flawed personality or approach that sticks.
The Autumn Statement reaffirmed Osborne as a master tactician and a policy pragmatist. Judge him not on grand words or ideas, but delivery. And he has a good story, in general, to tell. The economy continues to grow, faster than most other OECD countries. Employment, especially female and youth employment,…