by Callum Anderson
On Thursday, George Osborne will give his penultimate Autumn Statement before the 2015 general election. It is likely to be a highly political Autumn Statement. But whilst most of its content has yet to be leaked (at least at the time of writing), save for the likely rolling back of green levies – an attempt by the coalition to tackle the “cost of living” crisis – there is still scope for the prime minister and the chancellor to create huge problems for Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, if they can demonstrate that they are beginning to understand the economic concerns of voters, and shift to the centre ground.
Hopi Sen has already entertainingly set out how Osborne and the Conservatives could steal a march on the two Eds on the ‘cost of living crisis’. Increasing the minimum wage above inflation each year for the next five years, subject to the advice of the Low Pay Commission; raising the tax free personal allowance by £500 each year, and thus lifting millions of people from the burden of tax; reintroducing the 10p tax rate temporarily, benefitting all full-time workers on the minimum wage; and announcing an immediate cut in domestic energy bills, funded by a tax on overseas buyers of expensive property, are just a few measures that would leave the Labour hierarchy scratching their heads as to how to respond.
Indeed, such a strategy has been expertly executed by Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, since she was elected in 2005. Her Christian Union party (CDU) – Germany’s conservative party – has been the lead partner in the previous two coalition governments: first with the Social Democrats (SPD) between 2005 and 2009, and second with the Liberals (FPD) between 2009 and 2013, and is set to enter another Coalition with the SPD within the next month.
Ms Merkel has been particularly adept in not only keeping the CDU resolutely on the centre ground of German politics, but also shifting the balance of responsibility disproportionately to her junior coalition partners. For instance, during her first term, Ms Merkel astutely took advantage of the unwillingness of SPD members to enter a coalition government with her own CDU to, in the first instance, solidify the “Hartz” labour market and welfare reforms of her SPD predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, as well as ensure that both parties shouldered the responsibility for the substantial austerity measures taken in response to the 2007-08 financial crisis.
Likewise in her second term, Ms Merkel has been, perhaps too successful, in allowing the FDP to shoulder much of the blame in the slow response to the Euro crisis of the last few years. I say too successful because the FDP, who have traditionally had more in common with the CDU than any other party in the German parliament, crashed at the federal elections in September to such an extent that they have no seats for the first time since 1945.