Osborne's Autumn statement: Delayed gratification and the shape of things to come

So how to PR an Autumn Statement? While key announcements are still drip-fed to favoured lobby correspondents at suitable intervals, key political messages are sent now directly to us voters through social media.

Treasury briefings took the wind out of Labour's sails
Treasury briefings took the wind out of Labour's sails

Treasury Ministers Nicky Morgan and Sajid Javid email me – and possibly thousands of other subscribers – personally with their plans for Britain’s future and ask me to post their dinky infographics on my Facebook page. 

Eds Miliband and Balls tweet ‘The Tories’ Cost of Living Bombshell’ which, as those of who’ve been around a while all know, is a rip-off off of the 'Labour’s Tax Bombshell' ad that the Tories ran in 1992.

The party machines are test-driving techniques and tactics of which we’ll be seeing a lot more during the next 18 months.

Few would have predicted that the Chancellor would be competing with a former Chancellor’s daughter for this morning’s front pages. 

In fact, after yesterday’s excitement around energy strike prices and the National lnfrastructure Plan, and with so much already revealed in the last week, today’s statement was set to be a bit of an anti-climax.

The Treasury team even managed to take the wind out of the sails of yesterday’s Opposition Day debate by trailing its business rate cap over the weekend.

And then, last night, just as we were turning off Twitter and sipping our cocoa, we found out George wants us all to keep working. For a very long time.

We can expect more of this communications strategy of delayed gratification. Whisper it – but the economic outlook is improving and today the Chancellor should be acknowledged for holding his nerve.

Gone is the caustic cocktail of downgraded economic forecasts and a few giveaways nestled between austerity measures. His style and delivery were marginally more upbeat.

Osborne knows the next election will be fought around the best ways to support struggling consumers who are still seeing prices rise faster than wages.

The outcome will depend largely on the Government’s ability to demonstrate and communicate real standard of living improvements from the economic recovery, versus Ed Miliband’s campaign on the ‘cost of living crisis' which continues to resonate with voters.

Like The Big Society and that 'Invitation to join the Government of Britain', there some policies and positioning which simply don’t cut it anymore.

Green levies, once a symbol of Dave’s brand of Conservatism have been ditched: scaled back to reduce the pain of rising fuel bills.

In the other policy areas we are starting to see defined territory between the coalition partners. New spending commitments include free school meals for the first three years of primary school, championed by the Lib Dems in the Coalition Government and trailed by Nick Clegg during the conference season.

This will be paid for by the existing education budget, much to Michael Gove’s chagrin. The transferable income tax allowance for some married couples, costed at £700 million, makes good on a Conservative manifesto commitment – and is a policy more popular with the PM than it is with the Chancellor.

Clearly more people will care about Osborne cancelling the fuel duty increases then they will about tax discs going digital.

Sarah Richardson is a director of public affairs for Edelman.

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