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Osborne: Gamble on the Many Not the Few

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George Osborne must be prepared to gamble and choose the needs of the many over the interests of the few in his Autumn Statement.

Planning minister Nick Boles invoked the ire of the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph for daring to suggest we could solve a housing crisis through, erm, building more houses.

This is the exact opposite of the small-c conservative policies that play well in the shires, but it is a good example of the direction of travel George Osborne ought to set out in next week's Autumn Statement. And it is probably the last chance Osborne has to announce policies that will have a real impact before the next general election.

So, the test of whether George Osborne's Statement supports the many not the few shouldn't just be whether he increases taxes on the rich. We should judge the Autumn Statement on whether it enables houses to be built for people to live in, roads and railways to get them to school and work, and energy plants to heat and light their homes, at a reasonable price.

On the side of people like me

ConHome's Tim Montgomerie has nailed the problem that Conservatives like George Osborne have - that voters don't think Conservatives 'care about people like me'. To address this, the Tories need to think more radically about what they can do to improve people's quality of life.

The costs of housing, transport links to jobs, and energy to keep the lights on are vital components of this quality of life. And yet, the cost of all of these things has rocketed in the past 20 years. Osborne can show that he is prepared to address this by overriding the concerns of his more NIMBY backbenchers and media critics.

Housing

And housing is key to this.The painful truth is that my parents' generation have reaped the benefits of a rapidly inflating housing market, then pulled up the ladder to protect their own investments. Whilst the economy in general has stagnated, house prices in many areas have continued to rise, meaning that, in real terms, owning your own home is now out of reach for even more people.

Radical action to encourage more building - and yes, partly on some of our green and pleasant lands - ought to be a cornerstone of the Autumn Statement.

Test 1: does the Autumn Statement make it easier for developers to (quickly) get on and build the new homes people need and want?

In the fast lane

According to a recent TUC study, the average worker spends nearly an hour a day commuting to and from work. These are necessary journeys, and vital for the economy. So the more congested trains and roads get, the more it becomes a drag on UK PLC. To be fair to the Government, it has recognised this, with a raft of rail and road building plans announced. But a year on from the National Infrastructure Plan, very little of what the Government announced is actually being built.

Test 2: does the Autumn Statement contain practical measures to speed up (or even bring forward) road and rail building?

Keeping the lights on

With the Energy Bill now published, the Government will be hoping that its policies provide the certainty needed for companies to invest in building more power plants and other sources of energy generation. That may work for really large new nuclear builds, but the planning system and other barriers continue to act as a brake on getting more sources of energy generation.

Moreover, it's not clear that we're giving the support needed to develop the engineers who will build these new plants or the innovators who will find new and more efficient ways to generate energy. The Chancellor ought to do more to address these issues.

Test 3: does the Autumn Statement make it easier or harder for energy companies to build more energy generation sources?

Test 4: does the Autumn Statement include measures to increase the number of engineers and innovators produced in the UK?

The Gambler?

The build up to this Autumn Statement has been fairly muted, but it ought to feel like a defining moment for Osborne. It's probably the last time that he can announce policies which make a real difference before the 2015 election - particularly those that need someone to build something.

So is he prepared to gamble to win big - showing that he is on the side of the many not the few - or is he stuck being a small-c conservative? Whether he passes the tests above will go a long way to telling us the answer.