Tag Archives: Chancellor of the Exchequer

Did you make your mark? And how?

I haven’t had much to say of late, but I have been listening.
That’s partly because I’ve been ill.
I was listening and trying to make sense of the cacophony of ideas and comment that filled cyberspace, the radio waves, television and our newspapers as we approached the UK’s general election.Big Ben
Believe me, it was hard. So much noise and so little clarity. With only a week or so to go, no one seemed to be able to predict the outcome.
Too close for comfort
Now it’s all over bar the shouting, at least until September, when The Labour Party has its conference and there’ll be plenty of noise about then.
That’s not so surprising when you think that, for years, it’s been nigh-on impossible to slip a cigarette paper between the two major parties’ policies or their leaders, whoever they may be.
Both leaders banged on before the election about reducing the budget deficit, blaming each other for its existence and the way it was handled. Yet neither seemed to have a credible solution.
Each one swore blind the NHS was safe in their hands while acknowledging it needs reform. But who knows where they might take it? Less than a month later it was deemed to be in trouble again.
And they both had our ageing population’s welfare and our children’s education right at the heart of their programmes. Where is it now?
“Vote for us from cradle to grave”, but what would we get?
Even if you turned to the minority parties, there wasn’t much on offer.
The Greens’ ideas seemed attractive, until you recalled their leader’s February “brain fade” and asked yourself if they’d be able to keep a grip on their day-to-day thinking, let alone the economy.
UKIP didn’t fare too well, unless you were a rabid anti-immigrationist or a simple-minded little Englander.
As for the Liberal Democrats, they seem to have completely lost their way since they were blinded by the bright lights of so-called power sharing as they went into coalition with the Conservatives. Their leader quit almost before he’d lost his seat.
Damaged goods
Aside from their policies, there was also the question of morality or, to be kinder, the whether of whether or not any of our currently serving MPs are fit for purpose.
Even now it’s hard to forget, and even harder to forgive, the business of MPs’ expenses. The infamous duck house enjoys legendary status. The second homes are an indelible memory.
More recently and nearer the election, we had accusations levelled at both Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw that they were willing to accept cash in hand in exchange for a word in various MPs’ ears.
Even the church, which delivered such a well-reasoned critique on the state of British politics early in the year, was accused of hypocrisy for demanding an increase in the minimum wage when it currently paid some of its people less than that.
And then there was the government’s relationship with big business. What were we to make of the half-Nelson administered – and still administered – by some of the huge corporations whose influence paralyses the politicians’ ability to effect change in almost any walk of life?
Could we, in short, have confidence in anyone or any party that entreated us for our vote?
The radical alternative
I don’t profess to have an absolute answer to any of your questions, but I do have a suggestion.
Between now and the next general election let’s try to get something on the ballot paper that allows us to express ourselves properly, rather than having to vote in a way that leaves us uncomfortable just because we’re trying to keep someone out, rather than vote as we feel.
I didn’t vote (because I was stuck in the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, too late to register for a postal vote, and too ill to be allowed out to the polling station).
But had I been able to vote I probably would have spoiled my paper by writing something like NONE OF THE ABOVE ARE SUITABLE across it.
It would then have gone into the pile marked “Spoiled papers” and been forgotten.
Let’s, next time, have a place where you can put a tick next to NO CONFIDENCE.
That way we all be able to vote as we feel, not as we’re expected to.

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Good on yer, Max!

I never thought I’d say this, but the Daily Mail’s Max Hastings is spot on today.
Commenting on Chancellor George Osborne’s speech in the House of Commons yesterday, when he introduced his Autumn Statement, Hastings says that, while it was a good speech, if Osborne had “told us the whole truth about the economy the Tories would never get elected”.
Goodness me! And in the Daily Mail!
Cataloging the anomalies in Osborne’s address, he highlights the disconnects between fact and fantasy and claims that, if Britain’s public finances are to be sustainable, Osborne would have to make spending cuts on a scale beyond the acceptable, in electoral terms.
Hastings goes on to bemoan the levels of what he calls “wasted, wasted, wasted” public expenditure, on projects he derides.
But his final, parting shot is the most wounding to the Tories – his newspaper’s core readership.
He says: “George Osborne is a better and more truthful man than his Labour foes, as he showed us again yesterday.
“His party is the only one fit to govern after next May. But it is nowhere near honest enough, if our children and grandchildren are to inhabit a solvent Britain.”
And he’s right.
I never thought I’d say that!

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A tale of two Gs

A couple of weeks ago I spent an evening in the company of Ken Clarke, one of British politics’ big beasts.
That night, recounting his achievements and countering his critics, Clarke seemed like a man at the end of his political tether; a misunderstood old-school patrician slightly confused by the antics of his upstart public school successors.
Today comes the news that Gordon Brown – another big beast of British politics – is to retire from Parliament at next year’s general election.
Both men have been in pubic service – and in the public eye – for decades. So it’s little wonder they both feel it’s time to take a back seat somewhere; or, more likely, a front seat in some international institution or another.
For both men, the questions are “What next?” and “How will they be remembered?”.
In Clarke’s case, he may always be recalled in the same breath as Margaret Thatcher.
In Brown’s case, he may never be disassociated from his erstwhile political friend and adversary, Tony Blair.
But there is another comparison to be made.
Two G forces
Gordon Brown was Britain’s longest-serving peacetime Chancellor of the Exchequer.
In that role, he oversaw extraordinary levels of economic growth and (admittedly debt-fuelled) prosperity for the UK.
As Prime Minister, he was responsible for saving – not ‘the world’ as he mistakenly put it in Parliament – but the world’s banking system as we knew it – and, to a great a extent, still know it today – when it was brought to its knees by the collapse of Lehman Brothers.
Throughout his political life, he has believed in the idea of politics as public service.
His is a record of devotion to Britain, to the betterment of society and to the selfless notion that working to improve the lives of others is a laudable activity.
There seems little doubt that, once he leaves Parliament for the last time next May, he is destined for some new role in public service.
But what of the other G?
A chancer on the make
George Osborne, Britain’s current Chancellor, is a man for whom the ‘chance’ in his job description seems more closely allied to ‘risk’ and ‘luck’ than to the serious business of managing Britain’s economy.
Tomorrow he will deliver his much-trailed Autumn Statement, in which he will outline spendings and savings that he’ll no doubt describe as being good for the British economy.
He may well, as always, blame the last administration for the “mess” he inherited in 2010.
He may even quote Liam Byrne who, as outgoing chief secretary to the Treasury, reportedly left a note saying: “There is no money.” And there is still none.
He may claim to have righted what he saw as a sinking ship.
But he will still be presiding over levels of near-unstainable debt and continuing austerity that can be seen in the UK’s fragile economic growth, the collapse of our manufactured exports, the general state of dereliction in parts of the country and the increasing numbers of people relying on food banks for survival.
Unlike Brown, Osborne, one suspects, will quietly slide into some well remunerated, superannuated business slot when he retires.
A truly big beast
Not for him any notion of ongoing public service.
He is, after all, of the generation that, as Brown puts it, sees politics as, “at best, a branch of the entertainment industry”.
Indeed, it’s hard to believe that Osborne shares anything with Brown who, speaking in Kirkcaldy yesterday, said: “I still hold to the belief in something bigger than ourselves. I still hold to a belief in the moral purpose of public service … which I hope to inspire in my children.”
It’s my belief that, when the tales of these two Gs come to be told, Brown’s will have the greater heft.
For all his failings, he was a good politician and a great public servant.
I cannot see Osborne bettering him on either count.

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What is it about George Osborne?

Last Wednesday, watching the Chancellor of the Exchequer deliver the results of his spending review for 2015-16, it was impossible not be struck by the idea that here is a truly remarkable man.

Derided by those on the left of British politics as the part-time chancellor, he nevertheless has the ability to convince many opinion-formers that he’s a supreme politician.

That’s as may be.

What I find incomprehensible are his never-ending attempts to portray himself as some kind of Man Of The People and his constant mantra of: “We’re all in it together”.

The Man Of The People shtick was given full rein when he tweeted an image of himself tucking into a take-away hamburger on Tuesday evening as – he claimed – he put the finishing touches to his spending report.

But wait! What’s going on here?

Have his cuts already hit the Treasury and closed down the catering department? Can’t he spare just 20 minutes to eat a healthy meal brought to him on a tray?

Or does he think that, by sharing this image with the Twitteratii he’ll somehow engage with a nation seduced into – in some cases even reduced to – living on cheap burgers?

I doubt it, if only because he was reportedly enjoying a burger that probably cost £10. See how well that cuts it with those who can only afford a McDonald’s 99p bap!

During the presentation of his actual report, I couldn’t help noticing that smirky little grin that plays around his lips when he’s delivering what he so frequently calls “hard choices”.

It was there when he talked about Civil Service pay restrictions and again when he set out the Departmental budgets, which – unless Boadicea rises from the dead and there’s a massive sea-change in British politics – will see the state’s autonomy much reduced for many, many years to come.

It’s a grin that seems to say: “I can say all this because I’m the Chancellor and you’re not”.

At other times it seems to say: “I can do all this because I’m the Chancellor and it won’t affect me!”.

Well, he is the Chancellor of the Exchequer and much of what he proposes won’t affect him materially, but the grin doesn’t say much for us all “being in it together”.

Clearly, he has an election in mind – which is, of course, what makes him so politically astute.

Win it and he’ll be the darling of the right; the leading light in the Conservative party’s covert drive for a smaller state and – as a result – more work for their pals in the private sector.

Lose it and he will have left his successor with a country with thousands increasingly dependent on food banks and loan sharks, facing years more misery – little of which could ever be described as their fault.

But will he care?

Almost certainly not. As the remarkable man he is, he will simply skip off into the country where, surrounded by his admirers, he’ll probably spend the rest of his days enjoying the odd gourmet burger and frequent glasses of fine wine while the rest of us wonder how we got into this particular mess.

A truly remarkable feat for one man to pull off.

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