JAM. No, not the sweet fruity stuff you put on your toast. But on the heels of Ed Miliband’s ‘squeezed middle’ and Nick Clegg’s bizarre ‘alarm clock Britain’ (famously defined in one interview as “the sort of people who wake up to an alarm clock”), Theresa May has defined her priority as the ‘just about managing’ or JAM group. Every government department has been tasked with coming up with policies to match, and next week’s Autumn Statement is the biggest test so far as to whether they have enough of the sweet, fruity stuff in the policy locker.
So whilst Conservative Party Conference gave us the rhetoric of Theresa May’s Government (at times in felt like a weird mash-up of Nigel Farage and Ed Miliband), after four months in the job the country is looking for the statement to put the policy flesh on those rhetorical bones. But the political world should also be watching for what it tells us about the Downing Street-Treasury relationship. Forever and a day it has been the key institutional relationship in British governance, and all the chatter in Whitehall is that No 10 is in the ascendant in a way not seen for a very long time. Many Tory remainers have recanted their past sins and embraced the Brexit orthodoxy, but Chancellor Philip Hammond isn’t one of them, and this leaves him an isolated figure in the Cabinet. In power terms, Hammond is certainly no Osborne or Brown, and arguably not even a Darling either.
The proof of this will be in the Autumn Statement next week. Treasury continues to take a deeply pessimistic view over consequences of Brexit and so wants to take a super cautious fiscal approach to create flexibility to absorb future shocks. Downing Street, on the other hand, wants to send a statement to the country about the change Theresa May represents from David Cameron with policies for that jammy group.
Finally, few in Westminster believe Theresa May’s protestations that she is not at least considering an early election in 2017. The political and economic case for doing so is powerful, and the fact Tory MP’s are being urged to spend more time on the doorsteps in their constituencies is making them at least believe there will be a snap poll in the not-too-distant future. The Autumn Statement will give us some very big clues. If tax cuts and spending increases come your way, expect to be heading to a polling station come spring!