Today, George Osborne had the rare pleasure of announcing economic news that is better – not worse – than was expected when he last held a major fiscal event. The Autumn Statement declared that growth, employment and the public finances are all heading in the right direction. Even some bad news from the past, such as the double-dip recession earlier in the parliament, was revised out of existence.
But the chancellor’s political challenge was to combine all this optimism with unwavering commitment to austerity, the cause that defines him and the government. Veering off this theme to join the opposition Labour party in a skirmish over living standards this autumn has left the Tories looking like slaves to the news cycle. Read more
We get the politicians we deserve, but politicians do not always get the reputations they deserve. None has been short-changed by history more stingily than Sir John Major, the former British prime minister still invoked in some quarters – including his own Conservative party – as a synonym for haplessness and weak leadership.
Not the least of his qualities is a grown-up disinclination to fight for his good name. He could, as Margaret Thatcher did and Tony Blair still does, hover about in public life, talking up his achievements, nudging his successors this way or that. Instead, he has gone for a kind of dignified elusiveness. All we can surmise about his life now is that he puts his name to some good causes and still enjoys a Test match. Yesterday, a wowing guest turn at the parliamentary press gallery lunch restored him to the headlines for the first time in an age. Read more
Defeat in Thursday night’s parliamentary vote on the principle of military action in Syria is not an existential wound for David Cameron, whatever his more excitable enemies say. But, after several months of good form, the prime minister looks weaker than at any time since taking office more than three years ago. Failing to win over Liberal Democrat MPs in his coalition government is one thing. Being defied by his own Tories is quite another. Prime ministers are simply not supposed to lose House of Commons votes on major matters of foreign policy.
Mr Cameron recalled parliament from its summer recess in the assumption that securing its support for some kind of intervention in Syria would be straightforward. That has turned out to be mortifyingly complacent. And this is not merely hindsight speaking. It should have been obvious after the apparent chemical attack by the Syrian regime earlier this month that the widespread revulsion in Britain was not matched by an appetite to get involved. Voters and MPs were openly sceptical; the armed forces were privately reluctant. Only an assiduous campaign of persuasion would have swung the argument, and it never came. William Hague, Mr Cameron’s well-regarded foreign secretary, was too reticent. Read more