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Big economic set-piece speeches in Parliament are haphazard affairs, the Autumn Statement especially so. After soaking up an hour of economic data, the press pack pours itself into the Lower Gallery, where a man from the Treasury re-reads, line-by-line, the spread-sheet setting out the detail of Government spending commitments.

Each journalist is handed a large packet, inside which is a pile of documents, telephone-directory thick. People stand, eyes glazed, looking at the sheaves of numbers. A cynic might suggest that this was to the advantage of the government—that the choking volume of data helps to prevent its thorough examination, allowing…

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