Osborne close up

Autumn Statement preview: Osborne the white van man

George Osborne will position himself as white van man in tomorrow’s autumn statement as he tries to win the General Election by rebuilding Britain.

The Chancellor will find the cash to modernise the UK’s infrastructure with new roads, garden cities, underpasses and tube upgrades.

He’ll also try to silence Labour by dishing out more money for doctors’ surgeries and a providing a £2billion shot in the arm for the NHS.

There’s talk of funding for railways to enhance the five year road plan of £15billion investment in 100 new road schemes.

The hated tax on airline tickets for kids will be scrapped and SMEs will get help paying their duties to encourage a nation of entrepreneurs.

Northern powerhouses like Greater Manchester will get their Mayors and much greater power to lure in foreign investors to demonstrate the Conservatives care about more than the Shires.

Not only that, but a fracking fund will be set up to take the cash raised from this new energy source and channel it into building the economy in the north of England.

And the whole programme will be designed to say the Tories have a long term economic plan which involves making Britain the number one place for global investment.

He’ll appeal to construction workers everywhere – possible UKIP voters – who will stand to rake in a fortune thanks to the contracts being drawn up.

David Cameron and Mr Osborne have always been looking to show their austerity plan wasn’t the only thing on their agenda.

They’ve been keen to demonstrate that Britain is working again – and shovels in the ground are a potent symbol of that activity.

It comes to something when a Conservative-led government is boasting about spending, and the Labour Party are trying to make the narrative about deficit reduction.

But this is the state of play six months before the General Election. Just 154 days to go.

In any event, this is a slight caricature of how the Chancellor will present his approach.

Mr Osborne will be in an enviable position as he takes the despatch box.

He’ll be able to say that his government has created more jobs than the rest of the EU put together.

And he’ll point out that Britain’s economy is growing faster than any other economy in the world. That’s some achievement from a man who three years ago was fighting for his political life.

So it’s vital that Ed Miliband finds a way to strike a chord with voters who don’t feel they’re part of the recovery.

Labour have settled on deficit reduction as their ace, with a steady drumbeat of NHS scare stories.

No wonder, then, that shadow chancellor Ed Balls said on Sunday “whatever they do on the NHS, we’ll spend £2.5billion more”.

Mr Miliband will try to puncture the Tory balloon by saying the recovery has been on the back of a “zero hours economy”.

Many of the new jobs are on such low salaries that people who have them don’t have to pay tax.

So the amount going to the taxman is far lower than had been expected. Hence a £50billion black hole is emerging in the economy at a time when it’s growing.

It remains to be seen how successful Labour can be at landing this point with voters. The finer points of the economy are not high on most people’s agendas.

Commentators are already pointing out that Mr Miliband has left it perilously late to hang his hat on this theme, which is fiendishly difficult to explain.

Mr Cameron has played his cards on immigration as he tries to focus the nation’s conversation on the economy.

He knows the Conservatives hold an unassailable lead on the nation’s finances and if he can fight the General Election on this ground, he can’t go far wrong.

Now it’s a question of making his own backbenchers have faith and discipline to hold their nerve until May next year.

That, more than anything else, could be the hardest task.

Written By

George Pascoe-Watson