McDonnell’s profligacy will clash with reality

Christian May
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The Labour Party Autumn Conference 2015 - Day 2
McDonnell was ridiculed last year for responding to Osborne's Autumn Statement by quoting from Mao's little red book (Source: Getty)

Philip Hammond will treat us all to his first fiscal event on Wednesday, as he stands up to deliver a hotly anticipated Autumn Statement. Actually, that may be overdoing it. Let's just call it anticipated. After all, Hammond is no George Osborne.

The latter was famed for using such set-piece occasions as an exercise in power-building, politicking and too-clever-by-half fiscal trickery. The new chancellor, we are told, plays with a straighter bat: there are roads to be built, and he'll fund them.

Osborne delivered these statements with an eye on the top job, whereas Hammond has adopted the role of an accountant who has gone through the books and has a bit of bad news for you. He warned over the weekend that the country has an “eye-wateringly large debt” and the economy is facing a sharp challenge. “There's no point crying over that fact,” he added, just to cheer us up.

Read more: John McDonnell just said he'd back a rise in the 40p tax threshold

Expect a dose of realism on Wednesday. But what of the man who would be chancellor in his place? Labour's John McDonnell irritates Hammond, as anyone watching the two clash on Andy Marr's sofa yesterday morning could see. McDonnell, who just a few years ago was penning pamphlets for the extreme-left Permanent Revolution group, poked and prodded the chancellor over cuts to tax credits and the pain of austerity, while calling for hundreds of billions of pounds worth of investment. Hammond was restrained on the Sunday morning show, but don't expect him to go easy on Labour come Wednesday afternoon.

This time last year, McDonnell was ridiculed for responding to Osborne's Autumn Statement by quoting from Mao's little red book. He's likely to try a more grown-up approach on Wednesday, having since fleshed out his plan for a national investment bank and a reversal of austerity.

Read more: The Autumn Statement won’t help the City solve the enigma of Philip Hammond

Nevertheless, new polling shows just 18 per cent of the public trust Labour's top team to manage the public finances, compared with 44 per cent who have faith in the PM and her chancellor.

Hammond is likely to reveal some pretty grim forecasts on Wednesday, and Labour's desperate search for economic credibility won't be aided by calls from McDonnell for more borrowing. Neither man has it easy, but only one of them is living in the real world.

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