James Forsyth

Working side by side

Working side by side
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George Osborne and David Laws’ press conference this morning gave some hints about the chances of the coalition making it. The Treasury is where, I suspect, this coalition will succeed or fail. If the two parties can keep it together on how to reduce the deficit and how fast to do it, then I expect that they’ll be able to deal with the other issues that are thrown at them.

Encouragingly from this perspective, Osborne and Laws seemed comfortable sharing a platform; there were no attempts to score points off each other. It appeared to be a harmonious double-act. But Osborne didn’t refer as many questions to Laws as he did to Phillip Hammond, his trusted and super-able deputy in opposition, back in the day. It’ll be interesting to see if this changes over time. There is, though, clearly a degree of trust between the two teams. There were no competing briefings at the end of the press conference.

Both men also seemed boosted in stature by office. Osborne had more gravitas than he has had previously as he detailed what he was going to do as Chancellor. Thankfully, Osborne’s plan to radically reduce corporation tax appears to have survived the coalition talks. We will hear more on this at the CBI dinner on Wednesday. Today, the full meaning of the Office for Budget Responsibility, proper non-politically motivated economic forecasts and assessments of government policy, was also clearer than it had been in opposition, when it was easy to dismiss it as just another quango. This is a major structural innovation that will make it far harder for any government to be as reckless with the public finances as the last one was.

The Chief Secretary looks to have taken to office like a duck to water. Laws also, somewhat surprisingly, raised the biggest laugh of the press conference when he revealed that Liam Byrne’ss hand-over letter to him had simply said, ‘There’s no money left.’