Ask some how to get growth and you'll get very similar lines. "Shovel-ready projects" – on which the government can spend already allocated money to tickle the economy into moving – include lorry roads out of Felixstowe or a left filter lane on the M25.
Modest roads are a good thing for this lot: they generate revenue through fuel duty, whereas trains require subsidies. And so Danny Alexander announced £500m at conference – which government aides think can be "geared up" to £5bn of private money – to pay for those arterial roads and bypasses that developers are asked to ...uild in return for being granted planning permission.
"Interesting ideas" do the rounds but they won't be in the category of new Crossrails, high speed 3s, nor fifth bridges. A review for the last government showed that most often the higher the cost (and the more flamboyant the project), the lower the eventual value.
As government advisers contemplate the growth review, due on 29 November, they know this gives them a communications problem. How to dramatise, make more vivid, the very technical nature of what they are trying to do?
It's why strategists don't mind the fight over the green belt. They are quite sure they will not be paving paradise (only 9% of current British land is built on; if housing stock were doubled that would still not top 11%, they say). They think the battle gives the public the impression the government is doing something (anything).
In trying to galvanise the economy, language and confidence – getting people to spend again – matter as much as reforms in the undergrowth.
This was the point of the cabinet meeting on Tuesday. The chancellor sent them on their way with the clear message: "Nothing is going to get in the way of growth. Anything that does will be flattened." In private, the watchword remains "Hamburger Hill", the brutal 80s Vietnam war film named because Vietnamese bullets turned human flesh into hamburger meat. Cameron watched it the day before Tory party conference.
But in the next breath GI Osborne told assembled colleagues about their communication problem, and his solution. Hampshire council spent £7,000 on a bridge allowing dormice and lizards to cross the road safely, Osborne told colleagues, some of whom recognised it to be a Daily Mail story from February last year. "These are the ridiculous things that get in the way of growth," Osborne told the cabinet, putting a £100m price tag on these sorts of quaint projects. Away from the cabinet Alexander recalls how his constituency wanted a Tesco but couldn't have it because it was to be built on a pond because it that was home to a rare breed of protected fly.
a Daily Mail story from February last year The cabinet heard more fighting talk from the foreign secretary, William Hague, who also delivered a paper on growth – this time a call to turn European dictats into hamburger meat.
Britain was too risk-averse, he said. If there was a 1% chance of a legal challenge to a big project, British civil servants would counsel against it, whereas Germany and Belgium would go ahead and chance it. That should change, Hague said.
The growth review sees both sides of the coalition fairly united. Cable and Osborne meet every fortnight with their human calculators, Giles Wilkes and Rupert Harrison, to trade figures about the economy, only occasionally teasing one another about their respective party problems. One of Osborne's closest aides spent time liaising with Cable, pre-conference. It was to ensure no gaffes, but nonetheless it was a Tory advising a Lib Dem minister.
In some cases the economic teams are incredibly close-knit: when Alexander announced the £500m, it came as a surprise to Lib Dems in Clegg's office. Nick Clegg would brag to journalists that Wilkes' pamphlets were the only ones by a thinktanker quoted in a monetary policy committee session. Then King wrote back saying QE did get to small businesses but that they would be not be going any further – picking winners was not what the Bank of England did. Osborne's announcement is a Wilkesian way around what they all see as BoE intransigence.
It is not uncomplicated – Cable's department is holding the ring as No 10 pushes for yet more deregulation and shredding of employment rights – but it is better than believed.
But a relationship that is working less well is that with Chris Huhne, who Nos 10 and 11 believe briefed against the Treasury as it emerged Downing Street's permanent secretary had ticked off Osborne for holding up action on renewable energy.
Cameron appears to have finally decided that environmental policies standing in the way of growth fit Osborne's "flattened" category. The PM could be said to have turned from green to brown this week, like the leaves.
Economic growth (GDP)
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