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Autumn Statement: Balls and Osborne battle past political ghosts

Autumn Statement: Balls and Osborne battle past political ghosts

According to the tag trending on Twitter, today was #AS2013. But when George Osborne lifted his eyes from his crib sheet what he was focused on with laser intensity was 2015.

With the following wind of economic upgrades at his back and rattling off a series of statistics which have strengthened since the budget in March, the choice of comparison was significant – the chancellor dug a series of elephant traps designed to snare the lumbering beasts of Labour.

Saving any future revenue windfall give-aways for a period when they will still be fresh in the minds of voters as they step into the polling stations, this instead will frame the debate.

The biggest, most pointy-stick filled pit was the promise of a vote on budget responsibility in 2014, dug straight across Ed Ball’s electoral road map, with barely a palm frond to disguise it.

Want to make the next election about living standards big man? Well if you want to come down squarely on the side of benefit cheats, medical tourists and thieving opportunists of various recent EU accession states versus the honest taxpaying yeomen of Britain, here is your chance, he offered.

The elephantine Balls, in response, chose in turn to ignore today’s fact-filled budget and instead just put his head down and charge straight into a critique of the 2011 budget. Remember the top rate tax cut!

While the pasty tax was not actually mentioned, the ghost of Gregg’s finest traditional may as well have hovered over the dispatch box.

After an autumn in which the opposition front bench has largely made the political weather, this was pretty feeble and offers the peculiar sight of both major parties fighting the ghosts of the political past.

Conservatives pretending that the greatest economic collapse since the 1860s was entirely irrelevant to the state of the nation’s finances, Labour pretending that Scrooge-like Conservatives had  welcomed a Dickensian budget which in fact came close to initiating a leadership challenge.

Equally transparent semaphoring was visible in all of the parties' sartorial choices. In a neat inversion of the chancellor’s traditional masochism strategy, Dave was the one wearing the true blue tie of Thatcherite revivalism.

With Danny Alexander wearing cuddly, sunny Lib Dem yellow, Osborne stood between them in the soft green of compromise. Opposite them both Balls and Milliband Jnr had opted for the purple of small c-conservative working class Labour-ism.

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