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The Autumn Statement in four words: an election is coming

Thumbs up to a spring election? Credit: Getty

November 22, 2023 - 2:45pm

We don’t have politics: we have theatre. Parliament isn’t a place of debate or genuine Government scrutiny, but instead of drama — make-believe for men in grey suits.

Today’s Autumn Statement is the perfect illustration of this reality, a moment once specifically designed to be dull but now rolled in the same glitter as every other event in our political calendar. What was once an update about the state of the public finances has become a great pantomime designed to dazzle and amuse.

And like a pantomime, nothing you see is real. Beneath the gags and sparkle on display from our own Widow Twanky — Jeremy Hunt — lay a pretty cynical message: tax cuts now paid for by spending cuts later. This, in other words, was a pre-election performance designed with an encore in mind.

My immediate reaction was that the statement surely suggests a May election is seriously being considered in Number 10. The fact that Hunt also announced he was rushing through the 2p cut to national insurance to come into effect in January is further evidence in favour of those who think May is most likely. To my mind, the 25-point deficit in the polls still points towards a later election, but it’s clear the Tories — having steadied the ship after Liz Truss — are now fully focused on the election.

But whatever the merits and demerits of today’s statement (and there were both), it was not a serious “long-term” plan as Sunak keeps telling us. The Government is now essentially pencilling in massive spending cuts to departments other than health and education — spending cuts few think are at all plausible, or not, at least, without a radical reevaluation of what we want the state to actually do.

Draped over this great political pantomime, then, is the biggest illusion of all: that we can sustainably reduce the tax burden as Hunt promises without changing the responsibilities we have given the state for looking after the retired. The fundamental reality of this Tory government, remember, is that it has increased taxes, not reduced them. Promising that it will now reduce them without addressing the reason they have gone up is not serious, long-term politics, but electioneering.

The real Autumn Statement could be summed up in four words: an election is coming.


Tom McTague is UnHerd’s Political Editor. He is the author of Betting The House: The Inside Story of the 2017 Election.

TomMcTague

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R M
R M
7 months ago

spending cuts few think are at all plausible, or not, at least, without a radical reevaluation of what we want the state to actually do.

We’re in way too deep for that. The British public now expects the state to spend whatever it takes to do whatever it demands.
In FY1997 public spending as a proportion of GDP was 32.4%. It then rose through most of the New Labour years to stand at 43% in FY2010. So-called “austerity” merely reduced it to 39.3% over the next decade to FY2020. Then Covid blew the doors off with public spending exploding to 53% of GDP in FY2021. In FY2023 public spending was 45.3% of GDP, still the highest it has ever been outside of the two World Wars.
It will not have escaped the notice of any irony fans out there that in a time when any suggestion of public spending cuts is greeted with howls of outrage and indignation about Broken Britain, the UK government is in fact spending a higher proportion of the country’s money than at any time when we weren’t fighting a world war or dealing with a global pandemic.
Of course its so much easier for the state to take on spending than to reduce it. The demand is always for the government to fix whatever problem people have, usually with money. And once it increases spending in a particular area then that becomes the new baseline for expectations and the economy adjusts around it. Any attempt to roll back spending is then interpreted as an unprecedented and unreasonable removal of support.
But this is where we are and there’s no realistic way back. Probably not until the whole thing collapses around our ears.

Albireo Double
Albireo Double
7 months ago

We need to halve the size of the state.
Halve the civil service (and double its output). Get them working so hard they stop playing politics.
Cut parliament back to a few meetings a year when something really important comes up. Their entire effect is negative anyway.
No new laws without public majority approval via a quick electronic referendum system. One in – one out on all laws too.
Double the Prison estate and enforce out law. Replace the entire judiciary – just start again. They’re completely politicised.
Scrap NI and Introduce a flat tax rate of 25%. Corporation tax at 15%. VAT at 20%. Reduce HMRC headcount by 75%
Secure our borders and a 5 year moratorium on inward migration. Shorten that only if we get our existing dole queues down to nothing.
Secure our energy supplies, scrap the idiocy of Net Zero, and extract and sell every bit of gas and oil from the North Sea, while it still has a value.
Offshore processing of any illegal migrants immediately. Derogate from any treaties necessary to achieve it.
Start paying down the national debt immediately.
Where is the PM who will do this? I’d have done it as a younger man and such is the parliamentary idiocy that I’m tempted now.

Last edited 7 months ago by Albireo Double
Mike Downing
Mike Downing
7 months ago
Reply to  Albireo Double

Go on, give it a go. You can’t possibly be in worse shape than Joe Biden.

Paul MacDonnell
Paul MacDonnell
7 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Test

Kat L
Kat L
7 months ago
Reply to  Albireo Double

Age doesn’t mean anything if you still have mental acuity. The question is, can you survive the propaganda onslaught that will be waged against you?

El Uro
El Uro
7 months ago

The Government is now essentially pencilling in massive spending cuts to departments other than health and education — spending cuts few think are at all plausible, or not, at least, without a radical reevaluation of what we want the state to actually do

You want your state to be your nanny. Your state wants the same

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
7 months ago

I can’t remember who said that politics is show business for ugly people.

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
7 months ago

Wait until tomorrow’s immigration figures. There are decades where nothing happens, etc …… I would certainly welcome a break from the current torrent of events, but suspect it’s only going to speed up. When you don’t have a strategy, you are always a victim of circumstances.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
7 months ago

Pure humbug … the hypocrisy is manifest.

Let’s dismantle the Tory Party at GE2024 reducing their number of MP’s to under 50

AC Harper
AC Harper
7 months ago

 …spending cuts few think are at all plausible, or not, at least, without a radical reevaluation of what we want the state to actually do.

And there’s the rub for any political party. First you have to set out your policies for the electorate to consider. Secondly, if successful, you have to implement them against the resistance of all the vested interests who oppose change.
Better, I think, to pick just one thing and do it well than many things not done at all.

Waffles
Waffles
7 months ago

Just a thought but maybe we could pay for tax cuts now by cutting the budget for housing immigrants in 4 star hotels?

Alex Stonor
Alex Stonor
7 months ago

2p