I have covered multiple Budgets and Autumn Statements – “fiscal events” in the dry jargon – over a decade as a reporter, Labour Party researcher and adviser and am looking forward to tomorrow’s set-piece, my first as editor of LabourList.
So here is my handy guide to what you should say when you reply to George Osborne, with a commentary below. It is a big opportunity for you as it will be one of the few occasions each year when the public might pick up on what the leader of the Opposition says in Parliament.
1. We have no need for a Little Red Book this time around. The horrible truth of the Chancellor’s failure is revealed in the Blue Book published by the Office for Budget Responsibility. And it turns out the real Maoists are in the Government – in the form of the Justice Secretary.
The memory of Mao is hanging over the speech following John McDonnell’s gags in the Autumn Statement so best to deal with it early and move on.
2. The Chancellor has failed on nearly every target he set himself, especially dealing with the deficit. Back in 2010, before he got so distracted by the prospect of the Tory leadership, he said: “The formal mandate we set is that the structural current deficit should be in balance in the final year of the five-year forecast period, which is 2015-16 in this Budget.” The latest update suggested an £18bn black hole in the public finances while the deficit in 2014/15 was £90.2bn. Why did he get it so wrong?
Don’t forget the basics. This should be a day to batter Osborne on the main benchmark against which he asked to be measured. Ignore Labour’s own problems on fiscal credibility and just whack Osborne.
3. The “march of the makers” has ground to a halt. The idea of a manufacturing-led recovery has disappeared along with the Chancellor’s deficit reduction plan. Construction output actually fell in January – both month-on-month and year-on-year.
The “march” was a cracking soundbite but, like a lot of Osborne’s weapons for attacking his opponents, it has swung round and shot the Chancellor in the foot. So keep reminding people of his failure.
4. Why is the North always the first to be hit under this Chancellor? He announced the electrification of the Leeds-Manchester railway before the election – even though the Transport Secretary had been warned the works were in doubt – but the scheme was one of the first to be “paused” after the Tories had got back into power. Bizarrely, it was then “unpaused” in September when Yorkshire and Lancashire saw the Northern Powerhouse had suffered a powercut. But we know from previous Budgets the Chancellor never performs a u-turn, does he?
The anaemic reality of Osborne’s “Northern Powerhouse” should be an open goal – all you have to do is kick the ball towards the net. Either because of the reality of devolving spending cuts, or because of his transparent leadership ambitions, the Chancellor is on weak ground here so you have to attack.
5. Nothing shows the true out-of-touch nature of the Chancellor better than his boast the Google sweetheart deal, which generated a paltry £130min back taxes, was a “major success”. Italy demanded £1bn from the internet giant so does the Chancellor still believe his deal represents a “major vindication”?
People are still angry about this Jeremy. The Tories will try to present the Labour leadership as belated converts to fiscal discipline but you can justly say you have been campaigning on tax avoidance for many years. Little people pay their taxes. Big companies often don’t. Show some anger because the country is behind you on this one.
Good luck! And please knot your tie extra tight so the focus is on Osborne’s failures.