Thursday, December 05, 2013

Chinese Take-away and the Chancellor's Autumn Budget

It was when he yawned halfway through the speech that you realised why "I-don't-do-detail" Dave had decided to make his friend George, Chancellor of the Exchequer. Indeed, he gave every indication that if the Autumn Statement was the direction of travel for his government, he had yet to find where to climb on board.

Just back from selling the UK in Beijing, the Prime Minister looked like someone who wasn't quite sure if he'd flogged the House of Commons to the Chinese. A surfeit of stir-fry combined with an easy availability of sun beds seemed to have combined in the slightly porcine figure who sat as an observer on his own future. Not that there was much new to learn, even if he had managed to stay fully alert throughout the Chancellor's contribution.

Everything worth knowing had been leaked in advance, following the lesson of the last Labour Government that if something is worth saying, it's worth saying and saying and saying.

And saying is what George did, as the Tory benches exploded with the optimism of those who suddenly thought their jobs may yet be saved. Labour MPs, unnerved by this sudden appearance of life, responded as best they could in that time-honoured fashion which panics passers-by.

Dave might have been dozing, but Speaker Bercow, still busily arranging his robes, was forced to make an early - totally ignored - attack on "bellicose barracking".
The most bellicose of them all, the Chancellor himself, was clearly enjoying every second as he stuck it to the pair of Ed's opposite.

Employment up, borrowing down, tax cuts, price freezes; he ran through past and present to the ecstatic support of his MPs.
Another crack down on benefits, work nor dole for the young unemployed and Tory MPs on the nuttier end of the political spectrum were in heaven.

Labour howling its opposition seemed like a blood transfusion to the man who only 18 months ago was written off after his omni-shambles budget. 

George does do detail and every factoid brought his massed hordes almost to their feet. If he'd bid for the leadership then and there Dave might now be on his way to the Palace.

It was certainly enough to rattle nearby Deputy PM Nick Clegg who seemed uncertain whether to twist or bust on the record of the Government he shares. The Chancellor took time out to credit as many Tory MP's - and would be leadership voters -  by name as possible. He even found kind words for a potential opponent, Education Secretary Michael Gove, whilst reminding him that even his spending comes as a Treasury gift.
There was rare silence as he raised increasing the retirement age to 70, but sensibly no-one wanted to linger around that vote loser.

With Dave now dangerously awake and the Tories in full halloo, George finished with a figurative two fingers to the bench opposite. And that of course was all that was need to bring Labour's own chief thug, Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, into the ring.

Tickets could have been sold for the battle of the bruisers and the two looked as if they would have happily dropped their jackets and squared up. Parliamentary procedure means they stayed Despatch Box apart, but referee Bercow had to intervene immediately as it appeared Ed might never be heard.

Cheers and jeers matched each other in equal volume as Ed, clearly motivated by the mayhem, trotted through his reply. His own leader, Ed M, as relieved as Dave to be out of the firing line, offered to hold his coat as the Shadow Chancellor demonstrated his much-prized reputation as a battler.

The more the Tories howled, the happier he appeared to be, dissing them with "tax cuts for millionaires" and cost of living confusion. Labour MPs - who had obviously forgotten their 8 point lead in the opinion polls during George's diatribe - rediscovered their confidence and cheered their champion on and on.

By now Ed was shouting loud enough to be heard by anyone in his Yorkshire constituency with a window open. The stammer which marked his appearance at this event a year ago was gone and the insults flowed effortlessly. 

This year's Autumn Statement was delayed a day to accommodate the Chinese so who knows when - or where -  next year's will be held.