Spending Review: George Osborne's Big Top Spectacular

The Chancellor doesn’t look much like a circus magician — but should his leadership bid fail, a life in the big top is a clear possibility:

THRILL as he performs one of the biggest U-turns in living memory

GASP as he somehow achieves how planned £12-billion welfare cuts, despite scrapping one-third of that programme.

WONDER how on earth he’s managed it, as you wait for someone else to crawl through the small print.

REALISE he never actually admitted to things like breaching his own welfare cap for the next three years.

This is effectively the third budget in eight months — the third set of forecasts, the third set of announcements on spending.

Third time lucky for George Osborne, as the Office for Budget Responsibility is far more optimistic now than it was at the start of the year.

Specifically, it expects more tax revenue to flow into government. Combined with lower interest rates on our debts, it’s given the Chancellor room to shuffle things around quite a bit.

U-turn if you want to

Some kind of reversal on cuts to tax credits was inevitable — cancelling them outright was a big, headline-grabbing move. 

The implication is that those at the top of government, Cameron and Osborne, were wrong to impose the cuts in the first place, wrong to ignore the mounting campaign against them, and wrong to rail against the House of Lords for rejecting them.

But how has he managed it? Given tax credit cuts were meant to save £4.4-billion, how can he cancel that and still hit his £12-billion target?

Well, he hasn’t really cancelled them. He’s just delayed them, and kind of hidden them. Under Plan A, millions of people would have got a letter in the next few weeks setting out how much money they would lose next year. Under Plan B, that won’t happen. But the government will continue the shift to Universal Credit — and the limits for those payments have already been quietly changed.  — meaning many who stood to lose out under tax credit changes will still lose out.

Tory tax rises? Eh?

The Chancellor proudly states the state will take 35% of national income by the end of this decade — down from close to 50% when he took over at the Treasury.

But many existing burdens are being passed on, and some taxes will rise.

To fill the yawning gap in social care funding (one that could trigger another NHS winter beds crisis) local authorities will be allowed to increase council tax by 2-percent. Of course, that means the blame for tax rises will lie with local councillors, not central government.

Expect a big Council car boot sale of assets too — now they’ve been told they can keep all the money they make. If libraries and community centres close to bridge funding gaps, it’s local councils who’ll be in the firing line.

Businesses will have to hand over an extra £3-billion a year to fund new apprenticeships. It’s a big gamble for the party of business to impose a new tax on business.

For those who can afford a second home, or who’ve made money from buy-to-let properties, there’s another tax rise. An extra 3% stamp duty, charged on people who are (almost certainly) mostly Conservative voters.

It’s not the only gamble. This only works if the predicted increases in tax revenues happen, if the economy grows at the forecast rate — and forecasts haven’t been terribly reliable in the past.

Promises to boost the NHS hinge on finding £22-billion in “efficiencies” — a figure few health service managers believe is achievable. 

George’s job application

The tax credit fiasco harmed George Osborne’s chances of succeeding David Cameron — and this is his attempt to get back on track.

To do it, the Chancellor is tacking to the centre, talking up house-building and announcing the biggest pension increase in fifteen years.

That echoes a change in Tory strategy over the summer, a move to capture the centre-ground voters alienated by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party.

This takes Osborne onto Boris Johnson’s territory, but it also leaves the Tory right wondering who to support — leaving a gap for a more hard-line leadership candidate.

The U-turns will grab the headlines — but what will make or break George Osborne’s future is what his policies do to ordinary people’s lives. If, as his critics say, many of those lives get harder, getting into Number 10 might be a little bit harder too…

And what about Labour? I hear you ask...

The Shadow Chancellor quoted from Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book in his response. That’s all you need to know…