Conservative Diary

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George Osborne will be satisfied with his press this morning - as some papers seem to capture him, and his plan, as though for the first time

By Paul Goodman

Screen shot 2010-10-21 at 08.02.23Since I'm writing this, I must still be here.  And since you're reading this, you must still be too.

In other words, the morning after George Osborne's Spending Review statement is here, after all.  Life as we know it didn't end yesterday, despite the announcement of the biggest spending scaleback since...well, not since the 1920s, we now read, but since Labour's reductions during the 1970s.

And life will continue to go on, particularly since so much is - and must be - unknown.

  • We don't know everything that was in the Spending Review, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and others, will doubtless be to hand with their own take during the hours and days ahead.
  • We don't know whether all the savings announced by the Chancellor will be realised (anything categorised by anyone as an "efficiency saving" may never happen).
  • We consequently don't know by how much taxes will rise.
  • We don't know what will happen to growth in Britain, let alone abroad.
  • We don't know whether the pain caused by the scaleback - and pain there will be - will coalesce during one period of time during the next few years, or spread itself out more evenly.
  • We don't know what MPs' reaction will be - whether Liberal Democrat backbenchers will stick with Clegg and Alexander, or whether Conservative ones, so many of whom are new to the Commons, will have the stomach for local trouble.
  • We don't know what public reaction will be.

We do know - or should - that the Government in general and Osborne in particular has made a brave decision to tackle a legacy of debt, waste and taxes, and that the Party which left it has no alternative to propose.

Whether voters grasp this or not is far less dependent on newspapers than it used to be.  But we can be certain that if every paper from the Sun to the Guardian opposed Osborne's economic programme for however long this Government lasts, it would be most unlikely to get re-elected.  So bearing in mind that most Editors see their main duty, when it comes to comment and analysis, as speaking for their readers' interests, what do this morning's front pages and coverage tell us?

  • The Daily Mail has captured the sense of occasion, and projected Osborne as the man who is the Government.  "Man who rolled back the state", its front page declares, alongside a long photograph of Osborne standing, clutching his red folder.  The Mail is shaped by its front page, editorial and - above all - big, projected and usually politics-related main article.  Stephen Glover is to hand with a subsidiary message about Ministers not stowing money into tax havens (part of the Mail's war on what it sees as the new rich), but Max Hastings wishes the Government godspeed.  The paper's editorial is titled "A historic day on the road to recovery".  Downing Street and the Treasury will be very pleased with the paper's coverage.
  • The Guardian's take is: "Axe falls on the poor"...

And that, frankly, is about all that will matter to Osborne and the Government.  They won't be too worried about the Daily Express's front page urging cuts in the overseas aid budget, or about Martin Wolf and Philip Stevens's continued opposition to the Treasury's strategy inside in the Financial Times (see here and here).  This morning's papers that matter to the Coalition are more or less where they're wanted.  The BBC is of course another matter.

Last thought.  Modern politics tends to concentrate on Party leaders.  Voters thus often have little sense of other big political figures - who they are, what they're like, what drives them, what makes them tick.  They know a lot more about George Osborne this morning than they did yesterday.  The Independent's front page picture captures him - young, alert, determined, slightly aloof, with an undertone of vulnerability, staring into the unknown.


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