George Osborne – serial economic failure or political used car salesman? A bit of both says Steve Beauchampé.
On Tuesday evening Inside Obama’s White House, the first episode of what promises to be an excellent four-part BBC 2 documentary, showed this most articulate and engaging of US Presidents in the early months of his tenure of office. But faced with Republican opposition in Congress, Obama was repeatedly thwarted, frustrated and delayed as he tried to introduce free healthcare for the poorest, close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre and deal with the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent recession via an unprecedented economic stimulus package designed to create jobs and upgrade the country’s severely outdated infrastructure.
Open, honest, deeply intelligent and with an ideology that places humanity and equality at its core, Obama is easily the finest US President in my lifetime. Contrast the man and his qualities with Britain’s would-be Prime Minister George Osborne. On Wednesday Osborne delivered his latest budget to the House of Commons. It was the usual illusory and diversionary (think sugar tax) performance; the selective use of economic data, financial contortions and highly politicised blames and claims. As ever it is the deliberately concealed details and political back-story behind the rhetoric that needs to be discovered and unravelled before an overall assessment of a George Osborne budget can be determined. There are now lies, damn lies, statistics and George Osborne’s statistics.
In many ways this budget was the most dishonest of all that Osborne has produced. It was not primarily designed to address the current economic realities facing the lives of ordinary people or those issues identifiable for the future, but one produced almost exclusively with the aim of providing Osborne with a moment, however short, prior to the 2020 General Election to claim that he has eradicated public borrowing and produced a financial surplus. And all this designed to coincide with Osborne’s anticipated accession to the office of Prime Minister.
Measures that could be undertaken now are unnecessarily delayed, promised financial targets repeatedly missed and erased from Osborne’s revised and redacted version of history. After nearly eight years of falsely blaming financial incompetence by the last Labour government’s for 2010’s sharply increased budget deficit Osborne now claims that lower growth and higher borrowing under his watch is the fault of global economic circumstances rather than his own failings.
Replying to Osborne’s budget speech Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, finally realising that sound bites are crucial to get your message across to that large tract of largely politically disengaged members of the public, lambasted Osborne’s record: “The budget…is the culmination of six years of failures. He’s failed on the budget deficit, failed on debt, failed on investment, failed on productivity, failed on the trade deficit, failed on the welfare cap, failed to tackle inequality”.
Add to this litany of incompetence the Chancellor’s regular policy reversals: pensioner tax relief, in work tax credits, the tax avoidance schemes of companies such as Google and Facebook, police grants, the proposed tax on hot food (also known as the Pasty Tax) and now, a day after his budget, Osborne finds himself under sustained pressure to reverse further planned cuts to the financial support the government gives disabled people.
Increasingly, sections of both the media and public who have been largely uncritical of George Osborne since 2010 may be getting wise to his incessant political games, his setting of poor against poorer, weak against weaker. And perhaps there is a growing realisation that the austerity Osborne has so brutally placed upon those at the bottom of society to fund (to give just two recent examples) Capital Gains Tax reductions and abandonment of the 50p top rate of Income Tax for those at or near the top is a wholly political choice.
As regards this locality, whilst London received initial funding for Crossrail 2, the Northern Powerhouse was awarded funding for HS3 between Manchester and Leeds, there was money for M62 improvements and a new Shakespeare Centre for the North and the devolution of judicial powers to Greater Manchester, for Birmingham and the West Midlands there was nothing and not even a mention.
But then, Osborne’s much-vaunted devolution of powers from Westminster and Whitehall to the English regions is part of an ideology that sees the dismantling of traditional local government as essential. Riven with unnecessary politics authority is transferred not to democratically accountable institutions representative of a cross-section of local society but business focussed organisations and those whom the Chancellor hopes will be malleable individuals.
What a shame that Barack Obama isn’t British.