The only Autumn Statement 2013 live blog without any numbers in it – at all
Welcome to the only autumn statement live blog without any numbers in it… at all.*
12:29 – Osborne sits down, and that's the end of this live blog. Somehow I've managed to do it – no numbers, no statistics, and only one or two moments when I felt utterly ruined by my own rule. Let me know what you think – @alex__stevenson. I'm off to do more frenzied writing – but this time with one or two figures included… come back for our analysis and news in an hour or so…
12:28 – "He couldn't bring himself to welcome any of the better economic news," Osborne says. He then cites Balls saying he had to cancel his piano exam, which prompts utter hilarity in the economic chamber. Balls is planning to reach the heights of piano-playing in the future, Osborne continues. "After his performance today, I can see why he expects to have a lot more time to practice!" MPs love that. Quite rightly. It was the first time I've laughed out loud since… well, since Osborne started speaking.
12:24 – Ed Balls' voice is now so ragged he sounds like a battle-wracked pirate. He wraps up by concluding "hard-working people are better off under the Tories". Osborne's response? "That was a nightmare."
12:22 – Balls points out the amount of uncollected tax rose last year. Given how much of a big deal Osborne made of tax stuff, that's really very important. "Apologise!" one MP shouts as Balls finally gets round to mentioning universal credit's troubles. The Department for Work and Pensions finally admitted the reforms are behind schedule today. "IDS in deep sh-ambles, Mr Speaker!" Balls declares with relish.
12:19 – Meanwhile, chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander has sent this message to Lib Dem party members: "Setting the Tory Marriage Tax break to one side, the Autumn Statement is packed full of Liberal Democrat ideas. Nick Clegg was right to tell Parliament yesterday that the recovery would not be happening without the Liberal Democrats."
12:17 – Balls' strangest quote yet: "The prime minister thinks the chancellor's policy is a turkey! Merry Christmas, prime minister, merry Christmas!"
12:16 – And now, right on cue, it's time for Balls to attack the married couples tax allowance. He says you'd have to roll the highest number on a dice to get in a family that benefits (or the equivalent that includes a number, ahem).
12:15 – One lobby journalist has just walked in from the Commons chamber and is very unimpressed with Balls, saying it sounds like he's "completely losing it. Ouch. Tough taking on those Tory heckles, those.
12:13 – The shadow chancellor has a neat strategy to answer the awkward question of his own gloomy predictions from the early years of this parliament. Rather than focusing on the economy, his focus is on Osborne's own early broken promises – all those cheerful forecasts that everything would be wrapped up. It's very effective. "With this government, it's clearly not just the badgers that move the goalposts."
12:11 – Balls sums up Labour's argument: There is a cost-of-living crisis, even if they won't admit it!"
12:10 – Balls sounds a little strained as he bawls against the Tory Wall Of Sound. Bercow is even more strained, telling one MP to "take up yoga" in order to "calm down".
12:09 – "For all his boasts and utterly breathtaking complacency, the chancellor is in complete denial about the central fact that is…" no point typing more, as after 'complete denial' the wall of sound returned again to jeer him. Still, Balls insists that living standards are continuing to fall.
12:08 – Now he's wrapping up. "Britain's moving again, let's keep going," he finishes. The Tories are so excited they can't help but stand up and wave their order papers. It leaves Ed Balls, who's up to respond, facing a wave of sound.
12:07 – "We are going to have a responsible recovery for all," Osborne continues. "I wanna commend my honourable friends" – that sounded suspicously close to a shout-out to his Tory bros.
12:03 – Not much time spent on energy, unsurprisingly. Osborne moves swiftly to fuel duty, which has been cut and then frozen by this chancellor. He announces the fuel duty rise has been cancelled for next year – another big cheer, and a big victory for Tory MP Robert Halfon. It's been a "major priority for the government," he says, making the most of this. "We're helping those who drive a car," he says. Train fares, too, are being held flat in real terms, he insists.
12:02 – "The levies and charges previous energy secretaries piled on bills" are what Osborne is tackling when it comes to gas and electricty prices.
12:01 – Well, in addition to help for married couples – the tax system is again being tweaked in their favour. "Our policies are progressive," Osborne insists, prompting high-pitched scornful laughter from Labour MPs.
12:01 – Talk about putting emphasis on businesses. By contrast the section about help for families is thoroughly subdued. Which is strange. Maybe Osborne's building up to a big announcement on this…
12:00: "Business rates capped, for the smallest firms no rates at all and help for the high street… the people in these businesses epitomise the hard-working people this government supports, and we're backing British businesses all the way."
11:58 – There's a whole lot of detail about the business rates reforms being worked through now – a big long list which it's simply impossible to concentrate on. Unless you happen to be a small business owner, of course. When it comes to pubs etc, the chancellor says he wants to help high streets, too – so there's a new reoccupation relief which halves the rate for new occupants. "Excellent!" someone sitting near Osborne says. It's the studio audience equivalent of "oooooh".
11:57 – The corporation tax cuts the coalition has been pushing through is a good idea, a study from the coalition shows. Er…..
11:54 – The next big cheer is about access to university, with more disadvantaged people applying than ever before. The Lib Dems look thoroughly awkward at this, not sure whether they ought to take credit for it or not. The old student loan book is to be sold, allowing the government to remove its cap on student places. I think.
11:53 – The big policy announcement of this year's Budget – that young people can't expect to just go straight on the dole – is re-announced, to more growls of approval from Tories.
11:53 – The free school meals move (largely a Lib Dem policy) is also "supported by me", Osborne says, continuing the 'this is all about me' theme. An MP shouts: "Well done, well done!" He sounds like Bruce Forsyth.
11:51 – House prices are forecast to continue to rise, but they're still going to be lower than they were at the peak for the next few years, the OBR has said. The PISA scores on education are cited, with a big rebuke for Michael Gove. But then comes an even bigger plug, which will make him feel better. "His expansion of free schools and academies has the full backing of this chancellor," he says.
11:48 – "We – have – to – build – more – homes," the chancellor continues. He fails to add: "Duh!" But then he does add a new raft of money to unlock unfinished housing projects and regenerate the country's most run-down housing estates.
11:47 – Now Osborne is moving on to energy, and he gets a firm hear-hear of approval from Tory backbenchers as he confirms the shift in subsidies backing offshore wind over onshore wind.
11:45 – There's a clampdown on tax dodginess in the City, strengthening HMRC (if not necessarily strengthening the taxman's resources). There's a personal tax change, too – a shift forcing capital gains tax on future gains made by non-residents who sell residential property in the UK.
11:42 – The chancellor says he has used "up-to-date demographic data" to increase the state pension age, which will save "future taxpayers". And it's good for young taxpayers too, he says, because they can be confident they will get a state pension. There's a bit of heckling from the Labour backbenchers, but that actually passed more quietly than I was expecting.
11:41 – Back to the pension now, which is being increased a bit more to help shore up the wrinkly vote. Voluntary national insurance contributions are also now on offer.
11:40 – Osborne gets a chance to be prime ministerial, praising the emergency services for their work in Glasgow in the last week. A heartfelt 'hear-hear' from all those in the House.
11:36 – Overall welfare spending is to be capped, the chancellor says. This will be introduced from next year. We've heard about this before, and it's prompted a lot of debate. Osborne is responding to that by confirming that the state pension won't be included in this cap. Thus keeping the pensioners happy. But the policy wonks will be unimpressed. As Policy Exchange's Matthew Oakley, a former Treasury official, said earlier this year: "Without this [including state pensions], any proposed cap would be meaningless and fail to recognise the real drivers of rising costs. It's time for an honest conversation with the public."
11:35 – "We will fix the roof while the sun is shining," Osborne declares – another key point, which basically means the coalition wants to make austerity closer to the norm. More discipline, more rigour! Politically, that must have been very appealing for the coalition.
11:32 – The debt is falling. By about as much as we thought it was before. "Economic growth alone was never going to be enough," Osborne says. That was rather a complex little passage – involving lots of numbers of course – but it comes down to this: "We will not let up in dealing with our country's debts… the stability and low mortgage rates have been hardwon by this country but let us be clear, they could easily be lost." He's using the word 'long-term' an awful lot here.
11:30 – "If we give up on the plan now we'd be saddled with a deficit that is still among the highest in Europe, and this side of the House [that includes the Lib Dems, of course] is not prepared to take that risk."
11:29 – We're on to debt and the deficit now. The assessment of underlying public sector net borrowing, excluding tricksy deals like the Royal Mail public offering, is that this has "been revised down substantially since March" – If you count a percentage point here or there are substantial, that is. Nevertheless, the OBR's forecast is there will be a small surplus by the end of the decade. That will take the wind out of Ed Balls' sails – he had promised a surplus himself as a way of outdoing the chancellor.
11:26 – Employment, which is deceptively rosy, is also looking better. The Office for Budget Responsibility is being upbeat, helping the number claiming unemployment benefit to fall to its lowest since Tony Blair came to power.
11:25 – Next the chancellor turns to the eurozone, which is struggling. Osborne says this is the reason the economy isn't doing even better. Ie, 'it isn't our fault'. The over-reliance on the US and European markets is being fixed, he adds, citing David Cameron's trip to China earlier this year.
11:23 – The estimate for growth for this year has more than doubled. "Growth over the forecast period is significantly up," he declares. It's the best improvement in growth forecasts since Tony Blair's opening parliament. "I can also report Britain is growing faster than any other economy," Osborne continues.
11:22 – The fall from peak to trough was even worse than had previously been thought, wiping off a monstrously large amount of money. "It was one of the sharpest falls in national income of any country in the world," Osborne says. Terrible.
11:22 – Time for the bit with all the numbers in. No idea how I'm going to do this without using numbers, but here goes…
11:20 – The opening barrage of self-congratulation gives way to the "hard evidence", but also "the hard truth that the job is not yet done". This note is an important one – he's refusing to be smug, actually. That phase appears to be well and truly over in the face of Labour's cost-of-living emphasis.
11:17 – John Bercow calls the House to order, and we kick off with George Osborne declaring: "Britain's economic planning is working, but the job is not done." A very rowdy start. He says the biggest risk "is those who would abandon the plan". He wants to "spot the debt bubbles", which sounds like a fun game.
11:15 – Osborne has just entered the Commons chamber, getting a lot of jeers from Labour MPs. And cheers from the Tories, of course.
11:11 – A real vote of confidence from one colleague, who observes: "What are you going to do if growth forecasts are up much, much more than we expected?" Actually he didn't use that, he used numbers, but there you go. I guess I'll just paraphrase like I did just then.
Another lobby journalist – a real veteran – has gone one better. "I don't just leave out all numbers," he told me. "I leave out all facts, too."
10:56 – I haven't eaten any breakfast yet, and the thought of covering the autumn statement on an empty stomach is simply appalling. So I'm going to totter off, refuel, and then return for the final buildup to what – I am hoping – is going to be a strangely liberating experience…
10:54 – Hmmm, Hans makes an excellent point. Retweets might complicate things a bit. But I solemnly pledge not to do so.
@Alex__Stevenson You're not allowed to retweet other people's stuff with numbers in though. That would be cheating.
— Hans van Leeuwen (@hansvan333) December 5, 2013
10:46 – This is going to be fine. Really it is. I'll say things like 'people are going to have to work for longer' and 'the price of beer is stable, unlike those who drink it' and that sort of thing…
— MayorWatch (@MayorWatch) December 5, 2013
10:40 – Shock twist: ALL NUMBERS HAVE BEEN REMOVED FROM THIS LIVE BLOG
These days shock twists are usually reserved for reality TV programmes, but now one has come along in a boring politics live blog. I've decided to get rid of all the numbers from our as-it-happens coverage. The autumn statement is full of digits, numerals, statistics and figures. Already I was finding my head was spinning dealing with them all. So why bother? Why not strip them out completely?
Well, that's what I'm going to attempt to do for the rest of the day. I've gone back through my earlier updates to this blog and got rid of as many of them as I could see from a quick skim-read. As the statement takes place and afterwards, I'm going to try and summarise in straightforward language rather than statistics – you know, use words – to get straight to the political meaning of it all.
This is no longer just the blog for people who can't cope with economics. It's now the only live blog covering the autumn statement without any numbers in it – at all.
10:39 – There are some very insightful and intelligence tweets being put out right now about the autumn statement. But there is also a lot of abuse for the chancellor and this is, in its own way, equally telling. Here are three gems plucked from the more direct kind of Twitterati online this morning:
So looks like we're all goin to be working till we're 68… 43 years to go for me! Thanks @GeorgeOsborne ???? you dick!
— Rhyan Morton (@RhyanMorton1) December 5, 2013
— LadyRebel (@RebelUK2013) December 5, 2013
Has anyone ever read a news article that mentions George Osborne, without at some point muttering the word cunt?
— McMaster (@BrettMcMaster) December 5, 2013
10:20 – Ian Dunt has been offering a few news-y insights of his own, noting: "Osborne's downbeat presentation of what should be euphoric economic figures can be partly explained by fears in Tory circles that voters would be prepared to go back to Labour if they think the UK's economic problems had been solved." You should read his story in full here, because it doesn't contain that many numbers either.
10:15 – After the GDP figures comes government borrowing. Again, the forecast should be an improvement, with the deficit reduced a bit more. This is fine and dandy, but it doesn't change the fact that when the coalition came to power the chancellor had predicted the job would be done by the end of this parliament. As it is, austerity is going to continue well into the next parliament. But with the date at which government borrowing is thought to be at its peak being brought forward, this is likely to be more good news. That smug Osborne tone is going to be almost overwhelming, let's face it.
10:06 – Business minister Matt Hancock has just been slapped down by the Speaker for "heckling another minister". Bercow told Hancock: "You are undergoing an apprenticeship to become a statesman – I think there are some years to run." Presumably Hancock won't bother joining the 'bollocked by Bercow' club…
10:01 – Vince Cable is looking very relaxed in the Commons chamber – presumably because he knows no-one is paying him any attention at all.
10:00 – The key figure to keep an eye on in the statement itself is, of course, GDP. It looks like good news; after all, the manufacturing, construction and service sectors look to be doing well in October, which means it looks like the economy is probably going to match the growth seen over the autumn.
I'm going to be interested to see what the growth forecast for next year is, too. It could be the first time when the forecast is actually revised upwards.
09:50 – Here's some interesting thoughts from Andrew Hawkins, the ComRes pollster, who notes that George Osborne is enjoying his highest economic ratings for two-and-a-half years.
Today, Labour’s lead in the polls has been uninterrupted for nearly two years and Ed Miliband has set the agenda with his energy price freeze pledge. But the impression that economic growth is actually returning has helped the Chancellor regain his credibility…Nevertheless, the Chancellor needs to use this recently acquired capital to shift a number of prevailing attitudes in his speech today if his economic success is to translate into voter popularity.
Those prevailing attitudes are about energy prices (will they fall? nope!), improvements to the roads (turns out infrastructure isn't boring, after all) and the state of people's wallets (the public's split on whether the economy's improving, but only half as many say their personal finances are better).
09:40 – In the Commons, the day's session has already got underway. Usually MPs like to pack up early on a Thursday – it's virtually the weekend now – and today is no exception, with the flurry of the autumn statement and the main exchanges over by lunchtime so MPs can slope off to their constituencies.
09:25 – Of course, the truth is we already know a hell of a lot about the policy announcements coming up. This is because Osborne has been determined to get all the actual news out of the way in the run-up, so we can all focus on him basking in the glow of the improved economic picture. So we know about infrastructure, and free school meals, and income tax, and… well, a whole bunch of things. Check out this useful catch-up to get your head around everything we can look forward to later.
09:20 – For the Tories, it's all about character – as pollster Peter Kellner observed on the Today programme earlier. There are policy changes which are nice and then there are the nasty party, the Tories who are hated by left-wingers with as much vile and venom as you'll ever see in mainstream British politics. Osborne did not flinch from making some controversial moves against welfare claimants in the Budget. Will he pull a mean-looking rabbit out of the hat at the last moment?
09:15 – One of the advantages of having the autumn statement as a mini-Budget is that we get to see Ed Balls in action (history dictates he's benched for the Budget in favour of Ed Miliband). This is going to be a tricky occasion for the shadow chancellor, though, because his predictions of doom and gloom are now looking a little dated. The key test for him later will be whether he can convincingly present Labour as having moved on from his early rhetoric.
09:10 – But there is a flipside to this story, a dark underbelly of dissent and grumbling which is basically the heart and soul of opposition politics. Labour is leaning on Britain's natural miserabilist tendencies to ask them whether, in their hearts, the sun is truly shining. Focusing on cost-of-living issues is thoroughly sensible in a recovery featuring employment stats cloaking a bleak picture of minimal pay increases and people forced to work less than full-time jobs. Anybody who answers affirmatively to the question 'it doesn't feel like a recovery, does it?' is going to be targeted by Labour today.
09:05 – The big picture, of course, is about a point of preference: do you prefer to be miserable or cheerful? Unlike this time last year, when the simple truth was the economy hadn't grown as much as anybody had hoped, the economic picture is looking a lot brighter right now. There never was a double-dip recession, after all. And looking forward, the Bank of England is painting a very rosy picture about what we can expect in the run-up to the general election. Having got all the awkward political news stories out of the way in the run-up to this statement, George Osborne will spend today trying to get us all to focus on this improving outlook.
09:00 – Morning all. It's that time of year once again – just when you were getting in a good mood for Christmas, the chancellor has to come along and make you think about numbers and stuff. It's a horribly bleak outlook for the next eight hours or so, but have no fear. Together we will weather the storm. And possibly even find a few points of interest along the way, too.
*OK, I know there are some numbers. Like the time. And in tweets. And other stuff. But still, it's the spirit of the thing… you know… Still, tweet at me angrily @alex__stevenson if you spot any egregious and unwanted figures appearing in the main text.