As he prepares for his imminent Budget, George Osborne is like a cross housewife. The lady in question is a superb cook, and happy to create a feast: all she needs is a little notice. But her husband has just rung to say that he is bringing six friends home in half an hour. As she contemplates the fridge, she can see barely enough to fill a frying pan, which is just as well. She will need that to brain the husband.
The analogy is not wholly accurate, for there is one crucial difference. Mr Osborne knew that the first phase of his chancellorship would be about famine, not feasts. It is to be hoped that there will be a second phase, and not just for the obvious reasons. George Osborne has a restless intelligence. His officials have been impressed by his command of his brief. In his early days as shadow chancellor, he was attracted by the idea of a flat tax. In different circumstances, such a refusal to succumb to the conventional wisdom could make him the most original and creative chancellor since Nigel Lawson. But in these bleak times, it is hard to be either.
Some of the Chancellor’s critics have complained about his failure to produce a strategy for growth. To listen to them, one might think that this was a simple matter: that Mr Osborne resembled an idle s