By Paul Goodman
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Today's autumn statement is being treated in the Westminster Village as though its contents will decide the election. Ed Balls wants higher borrowing. David Davis wants tax cuts. Tim wants a growth strategy and a pitch to middle Britain – to the heirs of the voters who first put Margaret Thatcher into Downing Street and then kept Labour out for almost 20 years.
I have written to the same effect about the heirs of Essex Man on this site. I too have scribbled endlessly-tweaked articles about Conservative political strategy (and doubtless will again). I don't for a moment question the need for a growth strategy. Hands up, please, all those who believe the Government doesn't need a growth strategy.
But much of what's been written – and I plead as guilty as anyone – is spitting in the wind: namely, the hurricane of the Eurozone crisis. The difference between Labour's spending plans and George Osborne's – for all Ed Balls's sound and fury – for this year is a few billions, not scores of billions: a drop in the sea of Government spending and in the ocean of Britain's economy.
Which, in turn, is only part of the network of oceans that make up the Eurozone. The Chancellor is like a man pouring a bucketful of water into this immensity. On a quiet day, the splash makes waves in our British backwater. But amidst a storm, it vanishes without trace. And what is coming may not so much be a storm as a hurricane.
If the Euro doesn't break up next year, the effects of the Eurozone crisis will bring recession to Britain – the storm. If it does, it will be followed by defaults, bust banks and (probably) sovereign bankruptcy – the hurricance. We are peering over the brink into a different world to the one we have known.
In it, the projection of compassionate conservatism, or appeals to the grandchildren of Essex Man, or debates about the nature and extent of modernisation, will be useless – as antique as the certainties of Edwardian England must have seemed in the depression-wracked 1930s. Only one recent political slogan has velocity today: Bill Clinton's "It's the economy, stupid".
Britain faces the likelihood of bankruptcy, repossession and unemployment on a scale unimaginable in modern times – on top of the inflation present even before the latest round of quantative easing. Against this agonising backdrop, the terrible and inescapable truth is that this afternoon's autumn statement scarcely matters.