Why we’ll never know the truth about austerity

So, how as it for you? Uninspiring, unadventurous, a little too much like last time - and the time before that?

It seemed wholly appropriate that George Osborne delivered his Autumn Statement in a particularly dismal early December with half the country cloaked in snow, great swathes still under water and the rest of us freezing.

The weather’s miserable, doleful nature perfectly reflected that of taxpayers, most of whom now appreciate that there is no alternative to austerity. Of course, this probably won’t prevent a Conservative defeat at the next election because voters are notoriously fickle and if Ed Balls talks the talk in a couple of years time, it’s likely that he will become Chancellor, possibly even Prime Minister. Lord preserve us.

But what could Mr Osborne do?

His hands were (and remain) tied. I suspect he wished he could turn the clock back a couple of years and reiterate his dire economic warnings in even stronger terms. In 2010, the Chancellor resembled an avuncular headmaster as he warned a chastened electorate that following a decade of reckless government expenditure, the British economy was in for a very tough ride if it was to recover.

He probably should have adapted a much fiercer, angrier tone, emphasising just how long it would take for Britain to extract itself from the deep, feculent  hole the previous administration had buried us all in. However, because he didn’t, he was forced yesterday to merely make his point again, telling a now increasingly cynical (and forgetful) electorate that there was no miracle cure for Britain’s economic woes.  

Yet there were some tiny snippets of positive news buried beneath a depressing volume of bad.

Next year’s basic income tax threshold has been raised by £235 to £9,440 and Corporation Tax has been cut by 1%. Yes, yes, I know the 3p a litre fuel tax has been scrapped, but for how long? Motorists already pay tax at the rate of 70% on every gallon of fuel they buy, so I fancy it won’t be long before that figure creeps up.

However, the most obvious flaw in the Chancellor’s repetitive, we’re-all-in-this-together message is that his forecasts are not worth the paper they’re written on.

When Mr Osborne stood up and delivered his Budget in March, our economy, he earnestly advised us, was forecast to grow by 0.8% in 2012. Yesterday, that figure was revised downwards (again) to minus 0.1%, while our amorphous ‘period of austerity’ was extended by a whole year, to 2016-17. The likelihood is that Mr Osborne will not be occupying Number 11 Downing Street by then, so in the meantime, why not come clean and tell us the way it is?

Taxpayers know we’re stranded up a particularly nasty creek without the proverbial paddle, after Messrs Blair and Brown stole them, just as the flood of global recession rocked us sideways and nearly sank our barely seaworthy craft. But we can take bad news. Most of us are over 21. Tell us how it really is, please!

George Osborne should preface his grave economic revelation by reminding the electorate that, while it might sound incredible, we’re actually better off than every Eurozone nation except Germany.

“Imagine how wretched it must be in Greece or Spain,” he should declare, before continuing: “As we face a prolonged, possibly ten year, period of unprecedented austerity measures, Britain’s electorate has the consolation of knowing that this Coalition administration is doing the least worst damage in trying to put our economy back on its feet. However, we have no idea how long it will take us.”

Such honesty might be admired for a short while, but I doubt many people would feel grateful enough to re-elect Mr Osborne and his Conservative colleagues. Perhaps it’s because he has one eye on the political implications of telling the whole truth that Mr Osborne’s forecasts will keep on being revised, invariably downwards, until he gets one right.


posted on 06 December 2012 15:40 byPJS