In the minds of government strategists, the autumn statement is the moment when the coalition gets to turn the conversation back to the broader economy and away from Ed Miliband’s focus on the cost of living. But the first five minutes of George Osborne’s pre-statement interview with Andrew Marr were dominated by the action the government is taking in response to Miliband’s pledge to freeze energy bills.
The problem for the coalition on energy bills is that the £50 it is taking off bills now might well not be enough to stop bills rising next year. If household bills go up again in 2014, Miliband’s price freeze is going to continue to look attractive to voters.
Osborne knows that he’s going to have good news to announce on Thursday– an upgrade in the growth forecast, a projected fall in unemployment and a deficit number that, insiders tell me, is ‘dramatically better’. But he doesn’t want people to think that this means that the economy is now fixed and it is safe to turn back to Labour. He kept stressing that the ‘job is not yet done’ and that Labour’s ‘disastrous approach’ of borrowing more is the biggest risk to the ‘responsible recovery’ he is trying to foster.
This has been a good autumn for Miliband. His energy price freeze pledge has made the political weather.