By Tim Montgomerie
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Andrew Marr's two main guests this morning were the Chancellor and his Shadow. Their get-together coincides with an interview in which Ed Balls heaps praise on George Osborne as the Conservative Party's "best politician". Lord Ashcroft's overnight mega poll found that Mr Osborne enjoys a 56% to 44% lead over Mr Balls when it comes to economic trustworthiness but it also found that neither men were liked. Both are seen as smug and arrogant, in equal measure.
Osborne's interview was not revelatory. See today's ConHome frontpage for the mass pre-briefing of Autumn Statement initiatives. He repeated familiar lines on sticking to Plan A, rebalancing the economy away from a dependence on financial services and ensuring that those with the broadest shoulders pay their way out of today's difficulties. He hinted that there might be more taxation of the wealthy in Tuesday's autumn statement but he also hinted that there'd be no retreat from withdrawing child benefit from 40p taxpayers. Higher wealth taxes are expected to fund relief for car and train commuters and also a new jobs scheme.
Under questioning from Andrew Marr the Chancellor said that he was confident that, by the end of the parliament, he would hit his deficit target and he'd do "whatever it takes" to ensure he did. Mr Osborne said his compliance would be evaluated by the independent Office of Budget Responsibility that he established – there'd be no massaging of the figures of the kind that took place when Brown and Balls were in charge of the nation's finances.
He accused Ed Balls of scaremongering about public sector unions and said the poorest public sector workers – eg those earning under £15,000 – were being completely protected.
An overnight YouGov poll for The Sunday Times (PDF) makes for uncomfortable reading for the Coalition, however, on the strikes. Although a plurality oppose the one day of action co-ordinated by the TUC, 59% think the government has handled negotiations with the unions badly and only 23% think it has handled talks well. A Survation survey for the Daily Star on Sunday finds more voters blaming the Coalition for the strikes (nearly half) compared with the unions (38%).