Gosh, what a parcel of goodies George Osborne is about to present to us in his Autumn Statement. Already promised last week were a government programme to underwrite the mortgages of first-time buyers, as well as a nifty £200 million “green deal” to encourage families to insulate their homes. Then there was a billion-pound subsidy to employers who give young people work experience that will lead to jobs. And who knows what more bounty is to follow in the speech itself?
Now where have I seen the like of this beneficence before? Oh yes – it was under Gordon Brown. As Chancellor (and then later when he was Prime Minister, through his half-hearted proxy Alistair Darling), Mr Brown would stand at the Dispatch Box and shower us with government spending projects. There were injections of cash into house-building, and grants for scientific research, and God knows how many initiatives to create “training” and engineering apprenticeships. All that micro-management: new “start-up” schemes and “one-stop shop” outreach services funded by this department and that department, and then re-packaged and re-announced so that they sounded less tired and predictable.
Maybe you thought we had got past this. Not just because additional public spending is now supposed to be anathema, but because the myth of government activism – the idea that intervention by the state is the answer to every economic and social problem – had been definitively routed. Apparently not: Mr Osborne and, we must assume, his boss still seem to believe that any unacceptable national situation must require direct action from them.