Saturday, 19 March 2016

The Lies of George Osborne

Peter Oborne, who enthusiastically endorsed Jeremy Corbyn last year and who will certainly do so in 2020, writes:

Chancellor George Osborne is beyond doubt the country’s most fascinating politician.

He provided the strategic vision that propelled his close friend David Cameron to the Tory leadership and then into Downing Street.

He has rare political courage. Unlike so many MPs who seem to put popularity before principles, the Chancellor is prepared to take risks, shoulder responsibility when things go wrong and suffer unpopularity.

In my judgment, he wields more power, and with greater relish, than the Prime Minister.

Osborne uses his position at the Treasury to control policy in a host of other government departments — as proved by his Budget announcement that all schools in England will become academies. 

He has also wrested personal charge of the Tories’ campaign to keep Britain part of the EU.

In effect, he is acting as the chief executive of the Government — whereas Cameron is increasingly behaving like a less hands-on company chairman.

However, I am concerned that Osborne’s predominance has become fatal to the Government and a growing threat to Cameron’s legacy as Prime Minister.

Although he’s been Chancellor for six years, he is nowhere near sorting out the catastrophic economic mess inherited from Labour.

There are also questions over Osborne’s reputation for honesty.

Twelve years ago, I wrote a detailed study of the Tony Blair government, called The Rise Of Political Lying.

I was inspired to write the book when I observed that the then Prime Minister and his closest lieutenants could not be trusted to tell the truth.

They said what they didn’t mean; they meant what they didn’t say; they told outright falsehoods; and they fabricated stories in order to discredit their political opponents or to enhance their own reputations. 

The most disgraceful of these fabrications concerned the Iraq war and Blair’s lies over Saddam Hussein’s so-called weapons of mass destruction.

But the New Labour culture of mendacity spread across every sphere of government activity.

For example, there was Gordon Brown’s notorious double-counting of spending totals. Perhaps I was naive, but I was shocked by this conduct.

However, I regret to say that I have noticed a return to this culture of lies — and the principal offender is George Osborne.

Like Blair in his pomp, Osborne bends the truth. This week’s Budget was an egregious example.

The Chancellor spoke twice about the importance of Britain ‘living within its means’. Of course, this should be a basic principle of all good financial housekeeping and practically every sane person would agree with it.

Unfortunately, although Osborne talks of ‘living within our means’, the truth is that he has been the most profligate Chancellor in British history.

Our national debt is likely to have doubled to just under £2 trillion under his stewardship of the nation’s finances.

With breath-taking hypocrisy, Osborne this week accused Gordon Brown, when chancellor, of having spent ‘money the country didn’t have’. 

This accusation is true, but Osborne has been a far bigger culprit. 

This year, Britain has a financial deficit of more than £70 billion — that is the difference between what the Government spends and what it receives. 

The Chancellor also had the audacity to assert that his Budget was one ‘for the next generation’ — a phrase he used 17 times! 

This was an appalling deception which ought to make any one who cares about our children’s future seethe with anger. 

For under Osborne’s economic strategy, he will pass on massive debts — the equivalent of around £100,000 for every family — to future generations.

It is today’s young who will have to shoulder the burden of this failure.

Another blatant lie was Osborne’s suggestion that Britain is far better placed to confront another financial disaster than we were under Labour.

The truth is that Britain would find it far more difficult today to confront another meltdown for the simple reason that, under Osborne’s stewardship, the national debt has risen so much that he would not have sufficient funds to bail out the banks as Gordon Brown did in 2008.

Another of Osborne’s boasts — about the stability of his ‘long-term economic plan’ — deserves to be punctured, too.

It is a vacuous slogan — particularly since the Chancellor has shown no sign in his six years in No 11 Downing Street of being able to stick to one.

Witness his humiliation on Wednesday as he was forced into a U-turn from the direction he set in his Autumn Statement, which he delivered only four months ago.

This week, Osborne conceded that spending cuts were necessary, whereas he had stated in November that they were not needed, as he had magically found extra money to inject into the economy.

When George Osborne doesn’t actually deceive, he resorts to smoke-and-mirrors tricks to try to make people believe his sums add up.

As Chris Giles, the highly respected economics editor of the Financial Times, remarked about Wednesday’s Budget: ‘Mr Osborne has copied the antics of rich tax-avoiders who delay or bring forward income to take advantage of a shifting tax system.’ 

Most disgraceful of all, however, was Osborne’s shameless attempt to abuse his annual financial statement to make the case for British membership of the EU. 

He quoted the supposedly independent Office for Budget Responsibility (the body set up by the Government to fulfil its promise to make economic policy-making more transparent) to warn that a vote to leave the EU would have negative consequences for this country. 

He said that the organisation had reported that Brexit could ‘have negative implications for activity via business and consumer confidence and might result in greater volatility in financial and other asset markets’. 

But the fact is that Osborne was quoting the OBR highly selectively.

As its director, Robert Chote, has since made clear, the OBR had made no projections about the effect of leaving the EU.

Indeed, there is even the possibility that Britain might prosper outside the EU. 

It was utterly disreputable of the Chancellor to attribute to the OBR views that it does not hold. He owes Mr Chote — and the British people — an apology. 

But this is the sort of chap that we have as Chancellor.

You’ll forgive the crack, but I suspect that if you went tiger shooting with George Osborne, you’d risk ending up with your belly full of lead or your throat torn out. 

Meanwhile, I fear that Britain is heading back towards recession. Very difficult times lie ahead. 

In such circumstances, the British people badly need a chancellor we can trust. George Osborne is not such a character. 

Like his friend Peter Mandelson, he is an unprincipled and highly ambitious schemer. 

This week, instead of telling the truth about the nation’s economic situation, he blustered his way through the Budget — trying to disguise the fact that even if he fulfils his promise of balancing the books by 2020 (something that is highly unlikely), Britain’s debt, at more than £1.7 trillion, will be massively bigger than when he came to office. 

This is bad for politics. It is bad for the Conservative Party. It is bad for the economy. And very bad for Britain.

Last night, in one of the most dramatic resignations of modern times, the Welfare Secretary Iain Duncan Smith quit the Government, criticising decisions that were ‘distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest’. 

The bulk of this article was written as a commentary on Osborne’s Budget, but the resignation of Duncan Smith late last night proves that the central thrust of my thesis is tragically very true.

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