At a time when we need less drama, this week in parliament has sometimes risked farce. So the Spring Statement gave the Chancellor the opportunity to play the straight man and bring some clarity to the shape of our finances.
Politically while it may seem there’s been little movement since the Autumn Budget on what sort of Brexit we’ll get, financially at least, the Chancellor found himself with a strong hand. Employment, wage growth, inflation and public finances were – on the face of it – more positive than the casual observer would have expected.
Perhaps as a result, the Chancellor struck an upbeat tone at the Dispatch Box with a series of broad announcements. Treasury support for regional growth and infrastructure, such as £260m for the Borderlands region – regardless of Brexit – is welcome. A new £3bn affordable homes guarantee scheme and £717m for the Housing Infrastructure Fund – which will unlock up to 37,000 new homes in West London, Cheshire, Didcot and Cambridge – is good news too. These are key announcements if the Government wants to keep business confidence high.
Younger voters may also take note of a renewed Government interest in biodiversity and the environment, although what measures will be introduced to protect habitats from development are unclear and could have implications for housing and infrastructure developers. There were warm words for small businesses too, who may feel some relief in the Chancellor’s ongoing commitment to stamp out late payment practices to protect cashflow.
But while the economics seemed positive, politics must come first. As the Brexit drama enters the final act, the Chancellor’s promise of an economic dividend if we leave the EU with a deal – and nothing if we don’t – will have left ears ringing in the Chamber. Whether the audience now takes note remains to be seen.