George Osborne may well have done enough to ensure the Conservatives are the largest party after next May’s General Election.
The underlying perception that the government has stabilised the economy has been around for a while and probably would have been enough to secure electoral success. This week’s blatantly electioneering autumn statement and accompanying announcements on roads, flood relief schemes and the scrapping of the trans Pennine pacer trains should prove the icing on the cake.
The fact that the election will be followed by a further massive attack on council spending, a probable failure to eliminate the deficit at any time in the next parliament and the real possibility of tax rises…well we’ll deal with that later.
EFFECT ON THE NORTH.
Labour must be worried by the way that George Osborne has positioned himself as champion of the Northern Powerhouse but before we look at those measures, there is an important question. What happened to Nick Clegg’s promise that Leeds and Sheffield were to get their devolution packages before the Autumn Statement? Perhaps that was why the Lib Dem leader absented himself from the Commons. The word is that Clegg’s insistence that the package should not involve a directly elected mayor has not gone down well with the Treasury.
It is striking what benefits Greater Manchester is reaping from its coherent political leadership. On top of last month’s devolution package it is to get the Sir Henry Royce Materials Research Centre and a new theatre space at the old Granada TV site. It is to be called The Factory Theatre, a fitting tribute to Tony Wilson, founder of Factory Records, who did so much to champion the cause of Northern devolution.
But the rest of the north hasn’t been forgotten. Improved access to the Port of Liverpool, flood defence schemes at Rossall in Lancashire and the Humber Estuary and a College to train people for the oil and gas industries in Blackpool are all welcome.
A sovereign wealth fund is be set up so that northern communities can benefit from shale gas extraction and under new franchises for Northern and Trans Pennine rail services, the dreaded pacer trains are to finally be replaced.
The government is still not addressing the major devolution questions for the whole of the North, people are on low wages, food banks grow and the services people depend on may be swept away, but it is going to be difficult for Labour to match the Tories Northern Powerhouse concept.
ALL IN IT TOGETHER.
There has been criticism that George Osborne has had two jobs, as Chancellor and Tory Party strategist. But you can see the virtue of it after Wednesday’s statement.
The Stamp Duty changes make Labour’s mansion tax proposals look clumsy and complex. It is true that their mansion tax would bring in a revenue stream every year whereas Stamp Duty is paid once. However the rich really will be clobbered by the changes whilst people buying lower priced houses are benefiting immediately from a welcome windfall.
To further tackle the perception that the Chancellor favours his rich friends, banks are facing a new tax and there will be an attempt to get multinationals to pay tax properly in the UK, although Osborne’s unilateral move is attracting criticism that it is not being coordinated internationally.
National insurance relief on apprentices, loans for post graduates, measures on Air Passenger Duty and ISAs, plus the petrol duty freeze will all contribute to a good feeling going into the election campaign.
Labour will rightly point to the big picture failure of the Chancellor to redeem his promise to balance the books in this parliament and the day of reckoning that awaits us all, but will that sway the voters?