Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Some thoughts on the Osborne speech

For more of the full text of the Chancellor's speech to the faithful in Manchester on Monday, see (or listen to) The Spectator blog. As I watched it live on BBC-Parliament, it seemed to me that he was claiming for himself many successes which stemmed from LibDem policy and that he was all too willing to blame some traditional Tory scapegoats for likely failures.

At every Party Conference since the election, as we have gathered, the question for us, the question for me, the question for our country, has been: ‘is your economic plan working?’. They’re not asking that question now.
Actually, many still are.

The deficit down by a third. Exports doubled to China. Taxpayers’ money back from the banks, not going in. 1.4 million new jobs created by businesses. 1,000 new jobs announced in this city today. Our plan is working.
He should have given some credit to the work of BIS under Vince Cable and (initially) Ed Davey.

We held our nerve in the face of huge pressure. Now Britain is turning a corner. That is down to the resolve and to the sacrifice of the people of this country.
The sacrifices have not been borne equally throughout UK society.
I share none of the pessimism I saw from the Leader of the Opposition last week. For him the global free market equates to a race to the bottom with the gains being shared among a smaller and smaller group of people. That is essentially the argument Karl Marx made in Das Kapital. It is what socialists have always believed. 
Playing the reds-under-the-bed card. Mind you, Ed Miliband makes it easy for him to do so.

I have to tell you today, that Nick Clegg has informed us of his intention to form a new coalition. For the first time, he’s intending to create a full working relationship with Vince Cable.
I was uncomfortably reminded of Nick Clegg's cheap shot at Matthew Oakeshott in Glasgow.

[Labour would] much rather just talk about the cost of living. As if the cost of living was somehow detached from the performance of the economy. Well you ask the citizens of Greece what happens to living standards when the economy fails. You ask someone with a mortgage what happens to their living standards when mortgage rates go up.
It's those very same low interest rates which are depressing the value of savings and pensions. Moreover, the national minimum wage now sets a low floor. If we had full employment, market forces would naturally push up wages, but we are far from full employment except in some specialist technical areas.

Our country’s problem is not that it taxes too little. It is that its government spends too much.
This is the nub. Labour too often has been seen to spend on the state for its own sake, never more so than in the period of Gordon Brown's chancellorship when he used increased state spending as a weapon in his jousts against Tony Blair. But today's Tories seem to regard the state as inherently evil. There has to be - I hate to say it - a middle way.

It should be obvious to anyone that in the years running up to the crash this country should have been running a budget surplus.
Indeed. Even Gordon Brown (who inherited a healthy set of books from Ken Clarke) initially promised to balance the economy over the medium term - the so-called golden rule.

I can tell you today that when we’ve dealt with Labour’s deficit, we will have a surplus in good times as insurance against difficult times ahead. Provided the recovery is sustained, our goal is to achieve that surplus in the next Parliament.
I seem to recall that both Liberal Democrat and Labour 2010 manifestos envisaged eliminating the structural deficit in the middle of the next Parliament. It was the Conservatives who proposed to do so within one Parliament.

we should commit, alongside running a surplus and capping welfare, to grow our capital spending at least in line with our national income. 
It's one thing to ensure that nobody should gain more from state benefits than from working - a situation which is resented by those on low pay - but it's quite another to freeze all benefit payments, which amounts to a real-terms cut in payments which are not generous to start with.

There is no argument with maintaining capital expenditure. One of the coalition's early mistakes was to adopt Labour's scheduled capital expenditure cuts.

We are increasing to £10,000 the amount you can earn before you pay a penny of income tax. That is a real achievement, delivered in budget after budget by a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer.
In the LibDem manifesto, not in the Conservative one.

I know whose side this Party is on. We are the party of aspiration. The housebuilding party of Macmillan.
But Macmillan and Marples actually drove the programme from the centre, including pressing local authorities to build council houses. There is little sign of that central direction from the Conservative members of the government - indeed, some of those earlier levers of control are no more.

 The pupil premium to support the most disadvantaged children: that was Michael Gove’s idea, front and centre of the last Conservative manifesto.
But an idea pioneered by Nick Clegg in this country and of course prominent in the LibDem manifesto.

 the biggest ever rise in the state pension.
The triple lock was in the LibDem manifesto, not in the Conservative one.
Today I can tell you about a new approach we’re calling Help to Work. For the first time, all long term unemployed people who are capable of work will be required to do something in return for their benefits, and to help them find work.
Beveridge didn't believe in the long-term unemployed rotting in idleness either, but he proposed that they should be given regular re-training to make them ready for paid work. Mr Osborne doesn't seem to be prepared to provide funds for that. 

Others will be made to attend the job centre every working day.
Given that Labour cut a swathe through Job Centres and their staff, and that Conservatives don't like increasing the numbers of civil servants, I can't see how this can practically be implemented.

[Later: it seems that Osborne has form in the area of acting in the area of welfare spending without consulting the DWP: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/david-cameron/10342039/Inside-the-Coalition-Iain-Duncan-Smith-was-not-clever-enough-claimed-Osborne.html]

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