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9/10 Tests for the Autumn Statement: Will Osborne advance an industrial policy?

By Tim Montgomerie
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Ealier I wondered - a little unfairly - if our Chancellor was becoming a bit like Gordon Brown with his nook and cranny interventionism. I also wonder if Mr Osborne is tempted to become a little bit like Peter Mandelson, too. Last week the former Deputy PM made the case for a strategic industrial policy in an article for The Times (£). He began by saying that he wasn't recommending a return to the failed industrial policies of the past:

"For the past 30 years there has been an unwritten rule in Whitehall that ministers and markets don’t mix. It’s easy to see why: misconceived central planning, ill-judged attempts at creating national champions and the inefficiencies of public ownership in the 1970s and 1980s were powerful evidence for the prosecution. The capture of policy by vested interests often meant that rather than government picking winners, losers were picking government."

He then set out what he was advocating:

"Supply-side economists tell us that a level playing field and a free run for entrepreneurs are all that is needed for growth. But just because you have a level playing field doesn’t mean that anybody can or will show up to play on it. Real life tells us that the companies and countries that dominate high- value industries are the ones that can draw on patient long-term investment, deep reservoirs of sophisticated science and skills, technology and highly efficient infrastructure. These assets do not just appear out of thin air."

My hunch is that Osborne buys this analysis. His actions so far suggest an interventionist streak and with Vince Cable as the Government's Business Secretary and Lord Heseltine as the Coalition's adviser on regions that streak may be getting stronger. The Civitas think tank has been leading calls for a shift away from hands off government towards a government that nurtures strategic interests. I'll be looking for signs tomorrow that George Osborne is heading in the same direction.

> Test 10 at 6.30pm: Will Osborne give the nation the truth?


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