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Osborne Focuses on the 'Hurt That's Worked'

06/12/2013 11:24 GMT | Updated 04/02/2014 10:59 GMT

After all the leaking and heavy trailing of recent weeks the Autumn Statement has now been delivered to a grateful world. After all the huffing and puffing in the Commons it is worth standing back and considering the comms implications of what we have seen and heard.

Very early on, Kamal Ahmed (@kamalahmed1) called it right, pointing out that the Statement was light on messages for business, and instead was "aimed at the general public, not CEOs". George Osborne's goal today was to tell Britons that 'it has hurt but it has worked', with stronger than expected growth, more rapid than expected falls in unemployment and falling deficits. Although there were some populist points, such as the proposed reduction in energy bills, Osborne sought to paint the bigger picture and focused on statistics for the economy as a whole.

Labour has long ago given up on arguing about the big picture statistics, particularly about growth. Instead it has developed a narrative that acknowledges the economy is on the mend, but argues that the benefits are not being felt by most people. Ed Balls played that card again today, claiming in particular that the Government's support for energy bill payers was "a half-baked attempt to steal Labour's clothes". He also pointed out that Government borrowing overall is far higher now than it ever was under Labour.

What Osborne and Balls are trying to say to the electorate is now quite clear. The Chancellor wants us all to see that the Government is responsible, grown up and able to take wise, tough, decisions which are now delivering results. The message: don't let Labour mess it up. Ed Balls, by contrast, wants us all to view the Government as out-of-touch, uncaring, unresponsive and ultimately incompetent. His message? Labour will help you. These conflicting arguments will of course shape the debate and the battleground between now and the 2015 election.

The Conservatives are trailing in the opinion polls, but have a more popular leader and most importantly out-score Labour on economic competence. The charge that Osborne and Cameron are not good stewards of the economy is not sticking. And it is unheard of for a party leading on economic competence and with a popular leader to lose a General Election. My guess is that the newspapers will give Osborne a generally positive write up for his Statement; and Ed Balls will get a thumbs down for his response. The Government's reputation for running the economy well will have grown in the minds of the public. Chalk one up for George Osborne's message today.