Osborne needs to manage expectations

The phrase ‘managing expectations’ is one of the most hackneyed of the service sector. Whether you’re a banker, lawyer, lobbyist, builder, plumber or PR consultant – any professional with customers or clients instantly recognises the need to meet demand, but not to overpromise. Overpromising makes the clichéd rod for one’s own back. It’s the first step on the slope to customer dissatisfaction, annoyance, and then outright rejection when they abandon you and look to a new service provider without so much as a thank-you.

In short, managing expectations is important. The ability to meet objectives while retaining realism about what can achieved is a fundamental professional skill.

And it’s no different if you’re the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Good tidings for the New Year be damned, George Osborne is clearly determined 2016 will not be his annus horriblis. And so he’s used a speech to business leaders in Cardiff to issue an economic version of a New Year wake-up call. The British economy might be doing well, but remains risk from a multitude of threats.

Mr Osborne is absolutely right. The threats are numerous. The Chinese economy is in a state so parlous it’s haunting the nightmares of economists the world over. The oil price remains low. And UK manufacturing has slowed to the point of a coma.

These are not problems of Mr Osborne’s making (although questions could be asked about UK manufacturing). But he knows full well that the health of the British economy will be heavily determined by what happens elsewhere. And he also knows that his political legacy is tied to the fate of the economy. It rises, so does his political stock. A crash and resulting recession might be the first line of his political obituary.

For a man seeking to succeed David Cameron as Prime Minister, Mr Osborne is acting as the consummate communications professional. He’s managing expectations, which is different from getting his excuses in early if it all goes to pot. And by warning of the risks to Britain, he’s not only demanding continued vigilance, but also establishing for the public, business leaders – and the Tory MPs who might one day vote him into the Party leadership and 10 Downing Street – that the difficult days are not over. But also that if growth stalls or the economy slides, that’s it not a product of his work over more than half a decade.