Osborne is a master tactician, so the rumours goes. He knows when to speak up and when to stay quiet. So when the Treasury is busily pumping out statements, or busying itself away from the media’s gaze, you should believe that is intentional.
In just over a week’s time George Osborne will stand up and deliver one of the most unanticipated budgets in recent memory. With all the controversy of the EU Referendum, Tory splits and Boris v Dave commentary his budget statement is getting closer and closer without many people noticing.
Many Government Ministers operate a submarine policy, only surfacing for air when absolutely necessary. And with economic data going backwards, the housing market looking precarious and Britain’s largest companies reporting challenging results, staying quiet makes good sense. Especially when the last time the Chancellor made a statement about the economy it was so rosy, he even managed to find billions down the back of the Treasury sofa to reverse some particularly unpopular cuts to tax credits. His economic enthusiasm may be about to come back to haunt him, just at a time when the Tory benches are fully engaged in who will follow Cameron – awkward timing from the master strategist.
With the exception of the usual air taxes and beer duty campaigns ploughing their usual lonely furrow, the only group to be shouting loudly is the pensions sector. They’re rightly worried that the Chancellor is going for a quick and dirty cash grab. Having spent decades attacking Gordon Brown for doing much the same as he wants to do now, the pensions industry smells a rat. It won’t just be pensions in Osborne’s sights, expect a raft of stealth taxes to be raised, another favourite Brown tactic.
Of course, Osborne wants to emulate Gordon Brown in more ways than just borrowing a bit of fiscal and monetary policy. Just as Brown followed Blair, so too does Osborne want to follow Cameron, but if this year’s budget produces the kind of downgrades analysts fear, then his chances of moving next door into Number 10 may look the same as Brown’s re-election chances in 2010.
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