THE Tories love fox hunting. Yesterday, Chancellor Osborne shot several Labour foxes. For starters, he surprised everyone – including his own backbenchers – by scrapping his plan to axe £4.4 billion from working tax credits. Cue loud cheers from the Conservative ranks. Mind you, those very same Tories were the first to scream their delight last July when the said Mr Osborne, in his Budget, presented those cuts as part of his “long-term plan”.

Therein lies the key to this year’s so-called Autumn Statement combined with a long-awaited Spending Review. George doesn’t really have any long-term plan – he makes it up as he goes along. This mini-Budget is the fourth attempt by the Chancellor in barely 12 months to get his sums right. We had the 2014 Autumn Statement last December, the main Budget in March (for pre-election giveaways) then an "emergency budget" in July, when the Tories realised they no longer had to placate Nick Clegg.

Each time, the Chancellor has had to get out his rubber and do his calculations over again. No wonder the independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) gives this new Budget “a roughly 55 per cent chance” of hitting its targets. Not that Osborne cares as long as he can concoct a narrative that satisfies his backbenchers, bamboozles a compliant Tory media and still leaves the City and hedge funds free to make squillions.

How has Osborne wished away those nasty cuts? Read the small print and you will see he hasn’t. This review still takes £12bn out of welfare by 2020 plus another £20bn from ordinary departmental spending.

Remember, this is a supremely ideological Chancellor who believes in a radically smaller state. The latest plan is to cut public spending to 36.5 per cent of national income by the end of this Parliament – it was 45 per cent in 2010. We’ve not see such a small public sector in the UK since the 1930s. In social democratic Europe, the norm is around 50 per cent.

True, with each crisis, Osborne has been quite willing to delay the date he will “balance the books”, that is, start to run a permanent surplus. So what if it allows him to shoot Labour foxes? Remember the Tories are intent on doing what Thatcher never managed: destroying the Labour Party in England as a political force. At which point, the mask will drop and there will be a massive assault on pension entitlements – already being demanded by the Conservative right-wing.

Osborne’s mini-Budget had a bit of help from new forecasts by the OBR which appear to give the Chancellor more cash to play with. He’s used this to roll back the working tax credit cuts, avoid slashing the police budget in England in cash terms (though it will still erode with inflation) and beef up defence spending. Beware. The new OBR forecast has appeared only since July. It is based on dozens of ropey assumptions. It will only take a hike in global interest rates to bust these assumptions wide open – as the OBR itself admits.

Meantime, a lot of folk will be worse off. The cut in working tax credits was only ever a way of saving money early, before the full roll-out of the new Universal Credit regime. Benefit entitlements will be cut by half under the new, unified system.

By Sunday, we’ll have winkled out all the hidden traps in Osborne’s plans. For instance, NHS England is to get an upfront cash injection of £6bn next year, which is welcome. But the small print indicates NHS England is expected to claw back £22bn in “efficiency savings”. And there are lots of new stealth taxes. A three per cent surcharge on stamp duty for buy-to-let properties and second homes should raise a neat £1bn.

The real sting in the tail comes from the savage cuts to Whitehall departmental budgets. Just how you build more roads by slashing the number of staff at the Department for Transport, or collect more taxes by closing HMRC offices, remains to be seen. The consequential Barnett cuts mean the Scottish Government will see its budget reduced by 5.7 per cent in real terms.

In the real economy, Osborne has achieved precious little. The current account deficit (basically our foreign borrowing) is still slated to run at record levels. Consumer unsecured debt is rising at a 10-year high of eight per cent per annum – the real reason we have any economic growth. If consumers stop borrowing in the next couple of years – those pesky higher interest rates again – then growth will falter and demolish Osborne’s fiscal house of cards. Roll on the March Budget.

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