Six days ago this newspaper led with a story in which the respected economist Professor Brian Ashcroft suggested that the Coalition should boost unemployment benefits for moral as well as economic reasons.
Two weeks from now, on November 29, George Osborne can do just that when he delivers his Chancellor’s autumn statement.
He is extremely unlikely to follow the professor’s advice. Instead he is expected to do almost the exact opposite, by breaking the tradition of uprating state benefits on the basis of inflation. To add spice, he will probably make it easier for employers to fire people. Altogether this looks like being an extremely contentious statement.
This “terrible Tuesday” will be followed by what might be “wild Wednesday” when workers, mainly in the public sector, will be striking across Britain in protest against the Coalition’s economic and social policies.
Labour politicians and trade union leaders will responsibly hope that all the strikes and demonstrations will be orderly, but there will be fringe elements, possibly even agents provocateurs, eager to see violence on the streets.
By the third day, the Thursday, we should have a pretty good idea of where we all stand. Is Mr Osborne capable of being as tough as he talks? Or will his Coalition colleagues have managed to water down his divisive proposals?
And will the strikes have been well supported by trade unionists? More importantly, will they have been sympathetically received by the wider public? By the beginning of December we will have a much stronger sense of where the Coalition is heading and the mood of the people.
Mr Osborne is the Coalition’s main man. I’ve a theory that David Cameron, a politician of sunny disposition, is hardly suited for these times of difficulty and austerity. He is a leader for fat prosperous years, when most folk can face the future with confidence, in the expectation that their own situation is going to get better.
That is not to suggest that Mr Osborne is the right leader, but then who is? I can hardly see Ed Miliband, Ed Balls, Nick Clegg or anyone else having the ability to lead the UK right now. In crisis countries, like Italy and Greece, democratic party politics are being bypassed as ageing technocrats are parachuted in to provide emergency leadership. I’m not sure this model would work in Britain, and anyway where are the suitable ageing technocrats?
People are rather looking for a Barack Obama figure, someone fresh who can offer a better and credible way through. Mr Obama’s three years as leader of the US have been disappointing. But he has changed the direction of America, he has given the people hope, and that is enough to be going on with.
Is there anyone similar on the British scene? Alex Salmond is the most able politician in the UK right now, but he is exclusively concerned with Scotland.
The only politician I can see with anything approaching the Obama factor of a few years ago is the untested Chuka Umunna, Labour MP for Streatham.
Mr Umunna’s Nigerian father died when he was just 13. He is now 33, an intelligent and charismatic lawyer. He has huge political potential. He is the Shadow Business Secretary -- that is, he is in direct opposition to Vince Cable.
Mr Umunna intends to stretch his brief; he wants to focus relentlessly on the fairness and social justice agenda. That will resonate widely and well. Mr Umunna is someone we’ll be hearing a lot of. I’d even risk a bet on him being the next Labour leader.
But back to George Osborne. The Chancellor is flexing his political muscles. His recent comments about companies not investing in Scotland because of uncertainty about the forthcoming referendum on independence were rightly swatted away by Alex Salmond as mere scaremongering.
Yet Mr Osborne is clearly growing in confidence and is asserting himself. Could it be that Mr Cameron was always just the smooth front man, and that the current Tory project is really being driven by the Chancellor?
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