JAMES FORSYTH: George revs up for a fuel duty freeze (…and no handbrake turns this time!)
05:00 GMT, 2 December 2012
Last chance: George Osborne knows this Autumn Statement is the last opportunity to do things voters will feel in their wallets before the next Election
Throughout the Coalition negotiations over the Autumn Statement, George Osborne has had two things on his mind. He wants to use the platform he has on Wednesday to show the country that the Government is ‘staying the course’ and ‘we’re still all in this together’.
Osborne knows this Autumn Statement is pretty much the Coalition’s last chance to do things voters will feel in their wallets before the next Election.
However, it also matters for him personally – as an opportunity to put behind him the troubles that followed this year’s Budget. As one Cabinet colleague says, a Chancellor’s year is dominated by a couple of set pieces and ‘when those go well, there’s a ripple effect, but there’s also a ripple effect when they go badly’.
The Coalition is determined to stick to its deficit-reduction plan. I’m told this has made it surprisingly easy to find agreement between the two parties on the biggest revenue raisers and spending cuts.
However, the Government will have to admit that it won’t succeed in having debt falling as a percentage of GDP by the next Election.
Showing ‘we’re all in this together’ is a subtler business.
Osborne wants to demonstrate that fairness means both the rich paying their fair share and ending ‘the something-for-nothing’ culture.
The Liberal Democrats take a different approach. Their concern is, as one of them puts it, to prove that ‘when we ask people to tighten their belts, the people we begin with are those with the biggest waistbands’.
This difference has caused problems for the Tories. They have got less than half of the 10 billion of welfare cuts they wanted. The Lib Dems are particularly pleased they have seen off plans to limit housing benefit for under-25s. The Tories believe this policy is popular, so expect to see it in their 2015 manifesto.
For their part, the Lib Dems have not got the mansion tax that they wanted, having to make do with extra taxes on the wealthy. A leading Lib Dem complains a mansion tax isn’t possible because of Cameron’s objections. ‘It is a PM red line. It’s not a Chancellor red line.’ The party leadership is now resigned to not getting a mansion tax, or anything approaching it such as extra council-tax bands, in this Coalition.
Nonetheless, the extra taxes on the wealthy are significant and roughly equivalent to the additional welfare cuts the Coalition is enacting. Yet the Statement will not increase taxes overall. This gives Osborne some flexibility. He intends to go further than Labour’s proposal to postpone the 3p rise in fuel duty for three months. Confidants expect him to freeze it until the next Budget, at least.
There will also, I’m informed, be other pro-growth tax changes as well as a concerted effort to shift spending on to capital projects.
What Osborne cannot afford is for anything to go wrong: there can be no U-turns this time.
Yet if he can pull off a successful Autumn Statement to follow his coup in recruiting Canadian Mark Carney to run the Bank of England, Osborne’s reputation will join the economy in recovery.
Twinkletoes Tim steals the Lib Dem dancing crown
They might be losing their deposits in by-elections and struggling in the polls, but the Liberal Democrats can still party.
On Tuesday night, they took over London’s most famous nightclub, the Ministry of Sound, for their Christmas bash. It appeared to have a Willy Wonka theme. But sadly – or thankfully, depending on how you look at it – no one turned up in fancy dress.
The venue was unusual and is perhaps best explained by the club’s co-founder James Palumbo being a long-time supporter of the party.
Nice moves: Party president Tim Farron, widely touted as a future leadership contender, inherited the dancing crown at the Lib Dem's Christmas bash at the Ministry of Sound
Yet even setting aside the glamorous location, this wasn’t your usual political do. Warm white wine was replaced by a free bar serving cocktails, spirits, wine and beer, while guests devoured a hog roast. Those who were still peckish could feast on huge selections of pick-and-mix chocolates.
Nick Clegg joked that he had hardly dared tell Danny Alexander that the party was taking place at the Ministry of Sound for fear of the Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury demanding a 20 per cent cut in the budget. He also wondered what it said about the Lib Dems that they were holding their Christmas bash before the Coalition’s Autumn Statement.
After the speeches, the serious stuff started: the dancing. With ballroom aficionado Vince Cable absent, the music was a string of Eighties hits – most of them older than the Liberal Democrats themselves, who were only founded in 1988.
Everyone hit the floor, from the Lib Dem chief whip Alistair Carmichael down. However, it was party president Tim Farron, widely touted as a future leadership contender, who inherited Cable’s dancing crown.
When the music stopped, a question was left for the Liberal Democrats. Can they ever make the voters dance to their tune again, or will the appeal of Eighties pop outlast them
Will Clegg be talked into Leveson reversal
It was a tense affair when the party leaders met on Thursday straight after the statements to the Commons on the Leveson Inquiry.
David Cameron tried to start things off on a consensual note, but Ed Miliband objected that what mattered was what they disagreed on. The meeting didn’t last long and broke up with only a vague promise to meet again.
Inside No 10, they are confident that though Nick Clegg does not agree with the Prime Minister, he won’t gang up with Miliband over the issue of a statutory backstop for a new press regulator. In a discussion on Wednesday evening, Clegg told Cameron he was prepared to change his mind on the need for legislation if he could be shown it would not work.
Tense affair: Nick Clegg (right) does not agree with the Prime Minister David Cameron (left) over the issue of a statutory backstop for a new press regulator
Tellingly, the Deputy Prime Minister has not spoken to the Labour leader since Thursday’s meeting. One senior Clegg ally complains that Labour is ‘stuck in a two-party mindset’.
Miliband is determined to keep pressing for the implementation of Leveson’s main recommendations. Those around him believe Cameron is being craven in the face of pressure from the same people who were responsible for so much of the press excess.
Meanwhile, Lord Justice Leveson is heading to Australia, where the debate over press regulation is, you guessed it, stalled. This should prepare him for his return to Britain.
QUOTES of the week
‘Better to leave a few noxious branches on the tree of press freedom than to prune and “injure the vigour of those yielding the proper fruits.” ’
Philosophical: Actress Charlotte Rampling, 66, said: 'Cinema likes young flesh and we shouldn't moan about that'
The Spectator magazine cites US founding father James Madison as it rejects any state-regulated system for the press.
'You drive a Honda not a haddock! Your car can’t swim.’
Solihull police tweet a warning to motorists trying to drive along flooded roads.
‘Prices are astronomical. I don’t know how anybody can afford to live in London, full stop.’
Robbie Williams, said to be worth 100 million, who is looking for a new home with wife Ayda Field and their daughter Teddy.
‘Is inappropriate the most sanctimonious word in the English lang Final straw – my child used it. Banning it.’
Jemima Khan, tweets her disapproval of lazy English.
'Cinema likes young flesh and we shouldn't moan about that.'
Actress Charlotte Rampling, now 66, is philosophical about the older generation missing out on screen roles.
‘I think it’s good. Anything that keeps Hugh Grant away from acting . . .’
Comedian Jack Whitehall wants the screen star to stay active with the Hacked Off campaign.
‘I went to see The Rolling Stones and really enjoyed it, while finding it a bit ridiculous that they are still going. This was in 1990.’
Comedy writer Daniel Maier tweets as Mick Jagger and co take to the stage once again at the 02.
‘Your daughter might be on her way to being the youngest person ever to decode a genome, but it’s best skimmed over with “Holly is doing rather well at work, although I fear she hasn’t grasped the politics of the office tea round.” ’
The Middle Class Handbook website urges modesty in parents’ annual round-robin letters.
‘You look fabulous . . . when you stand still. It’s all in the rhythm, and it wasn’t there.’
Strictly judge Bruno Tonioli to Olympic cyclist Victoria Pendleton before her exit from the BBC1 show.
Stand still: Strictly judge Bruno Tonioli told Victoria Pendleton she look fabulous 'when you stand still' before her exit from the BBC1 show