Tag Archives: George Osborne

Iain Duncan Smith has revealed the empty truth of compassionate conservatism

I am convinced that IDS has some sort of personality disorder. The level of apparent  cognitive dissonance is a bit weird. But what do I know?

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Iain Duncan Smith has revealed the empty truth of compassionate conservatism” was written by Suzanne Moore, for theguardian.com on Monday 21st March 2016 11.14 UTC

Are we to accept that awful croaker, Iain Duncan Smith, as some new martyr in the fight against austerity? Clearly the man who lied extensively on his CV is still in the business of self–delusion. His sudden realisation that the government was bearing down on the weakest in society, those who were never going to vote Tory anyway, has woken him from his slumber. The rise in food banks, the huge rise in homelessness, the suicides of those being sanctioned, the disabled suffering because of bedroom tax, the end of EMA, the long and continuing attack on single parents, predominantly women and children – he was just fine with all that.

But this latest budget he finds a bit cruel. It’s a contextual thing, taking from the disabled to help people selling off second homes looks, I don’t know … biased? What has been so enjoyable about this weekend is watching the effect of IDS’s (In Deep Shit his mates call him) flesh wound on George Osborne. What a bleed out.

Osborne, the arch-strategist whose dream is to lock in the Tory vote for generations, has looked more and more detached lately. This is why he is everywhere in a hard hat and hi-vis jacket. These are the signifiers of growth, a growth that is not happening. He is playing dress up. The public instinctively know this.

His “skivers” rhetoric does not work so well when applied to people with MS, just as Jeremy Hunt’s demonising of junior doctors as money-grabbing militants does not tally with people’s actual experience. We go to hospitals. We see who works hard. Hunt and IDS are loathed and they use faith bizarrely as a counter to compassion instead of its partner. Duncan Smith’s universal credit has been unworkable and unravelling for some time. His conscience has been pricked by this failure as much as anything else.

Where, I wonder, does this leave the creed of Cameronism itself? For a while it has seemed little more than an extension of Thatcherism with some gay rights thrown in. This is we are told is “compassionate conservatism”. I once followed William Hague around America (a young Osborne was there too) as he was learning compassionate conservatism from people like George Bush and Henry Kissinger. One of its key tenets is decentralisation from the state alongside the idea that only markets can generate wealth and freedom.

Yet this is not what Osborne has done at all. He is centralising power like crazy. Why is he interfering in school days, taking power away from local authorities, ending parent governors? This is a power grab and increasingly it exposes the end of any compassion that may have existed within the party leadership. Austerity no longer makes sense even in terms of his own logic. This is an ideology of callousness. And it is brazen.

Cruelty as George Eliot said requires no motive outside itself. “It only requires opportunity.” This is the legacy of Cameron.

So I don’t buy IDS as the tin man who has finally found a heart – yet somehow the curtain has been pulled back on the Wizard Oz-borne. An illusionist whose tricks are hollow. Cameronism is equally exposed as a belief system with no vision beyond keeping the show on the road. We may indeed be back in Kansas.

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There are limits to our empathy – and George Osborne knows it


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “There are limits to our empathy – and George Osborne knows it” was written by Jonathan Freedland, for The Guardian on Friday 10th July 2015 18.08 UTC

Perhaps it’s unwise to admit it, but one of the challenges during a budget speech is to stop your mind from wandering. Even an address of astonishing political audacity – as George Osborne’s was – has its longueurs, its moments when the stats are coming in such a blizzard, the borrowing projections merging with the annual growth percentages, that the brain, briefly blinded, looks elsewhere.

On Wednesday, mine wandered to Philadelphia. Not the city itself, but rather the Republican national convention held there in 2000. They gathered to anoint George W Bush as their nominee and laid on a spectacle that had one striking feature. Though only 4% of the delegates in the hall were black, one headline speaker after another was either African-American or from some other identifiable minority.

Primetime slots were given to Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, obviously, but the three co-chairs also happened to be a black Oklahoman, a Latino Texan and a white single mother. They found room for a gay congressman, while music came from Harold Melvin and Chaka Khan (African-American) with a cameo from Jon Secada (Cuban).

The whole effect was so brazen, it was almost comic. (One reporter likened the extravaganza to the Black and White Minstrel Show.) But the political logic was clear. The Republicans didn’t expect huge swaths of black American voters to end their historic allegiance to the Democrats and join them. They knew their prospects among Latino and gay Americans were limited. But those groups were not the target audience.

What Bush wanted to do was reassure white, suburban, swing, or floating, voters – especially women – that the Republicans had lost their harsh edge. That they were no longer so mean-spirited that a vote for them made you a bad person. The diverse faces on show at Philadelphia were there to salve the consciences of white soccer moms hesitating before backing Bush.

Which might explain why the memory of it returned on Wednesday. For a similar dynamic was at work. Who was Osborne appealing to with his announcement of a “national living wage”? He knows that precious few of Britain’s lowest-paid workers are set to rally to the Tory banner any time soon.

No, the voters Osborne wanted to reach are those for whom the Conservative brand is still tainted, those who may be doing quite well themselves, but who still associate the Tories with selfishness and even a callous disregard for the poor. Osborne was making a long-term bid for those votes. He knows they already trust him to have a cool head. Now he wants them to believe he has a warm heart.

This calculus is not new. It underpinned the modernisation project on which Osborne and David Cameron embarked a decade ago. When 2005-era Cameron spoke of “compassionate Conservatism” it was not the poor he was wooing. He wanted the votes of those who care about the poor, or more accurately those who don’t like to think they’re the sort of person who doesn’t care.

If that sounds cynical, that’s only partly because – to quote the Resolution Foundation, the group name-checked by Osborne when he announced the policy – the “national living wage” is a misnomer. Now that tax credits are to be taken away, you couldn’t actually live on it. It’s simply a welcome boost to, and relabelling of, the regular minimum wage. With unassailable chutzpah, Osborne has co-opted a halo brand that is not his – the living wage – in the hope that some of its glow will shine on him.

There is a deeper reason for scepticism. Osborne’s generosity was very carefully rationed. His judgment on who should be helped was not based not so much on need as political value. At its most obvious, there was the now-familiar bias against the young, who don’t vote, in favour of the old, who do. But this is about more than just voting blocs. Running through the chancellor’s decisions was a judgment about who the public will deem deserving and who undeserving.

Privately, the prime minister says pensioners have to be protected because they cannot change their circumstances. Which implies that the 20-year-old who will continue to work on the existing, miserly minimum wage, and is soon to be denied housing benefit and the possibility of a maintenance grant for study, is master of all he surveys, and only in his current situation because he has chosen not to change it.

It’s not important whether Cameron or Osborne truly believe this. What matters is their assumption that the voters believe it. They are gambling that Britons have empathy for pensioners and underpaid over-25s, but little for the young, for those on incapacity benefit, or on a low income with more than two children and for those who work in the public sector – all of whom were hit hard by the budget.

The cynical person here is Osborne himself. He is making a judgment about the limits of sympathy the majority of the electorate have for those falling behind. He has seen the shift in public mores, from the Cathy Come Home era of half a century ago to the Benefits Street culture of today, in which the poor are just as likely to induce anger as compassion.

And what compassion there is, Osborne has learned not to take too seriously. He doubtless remembers those 80s opinion polls which for years showed Britons insisting they regarded mass unemployment – the issue then championed by Labour – as the prime challenge facing the country, only for those same voters to re-elect Margaret Thatcher again and again.

Osborne has surely concluded that you need to do just enough to show you care – and then you can get away with plenty. Witness the inheritance tax giveaway that will take nearly £1bn a year out of the public purse by 2020 and which hands the children of those with assets a big slab of untaxed, unearned income.

In the supermarket trolley of Osborne’s budget were stashed a variety of such luxury treats, but he concealed them by putting a conspicuously organic, free range item – his “living wage” plan – on top.

Labour should be watching and learning. It would be a mistake to conclude the British public is uncaring. But nor can Labour make its pitch to the electorate on empathy alone. Voting is not an act of charity, but of self-interest – even if that self-interest includes the kind of society you want to live in. Voters want to know they can trust you to run the economy – and if you can be kind to the less fortunate, the deserving ones at least, then that’s a very pleasant bonus. But it’s that way around – and George Osborne knows it.

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Budget 2015: Britain’s fragile recovery is based on an act of political conjuring

Economic miracle. No I don’t think so somehow.  There might be some trouble brewing don’t you know.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Budget 2015: Britain’s fragile recovery is based on an act of political conjuring” was written by Heather Stewart, for The Guardian on Wednesday 18th March 2015 20.11 UTC

George Osborne styled Britain as the “comeback country” in Wednesday’s budget. Yet the carefully crafted narrative, in which he plays the sombre statesman stewarding the economy back to calmer waters, barely disguises the nakedly political nature of many of his decisions — and the serious risks that remain.

First, Osborne has only been able to cut debt as a share of GDP this year – hitting a target he was expected to miss as recently as December – and promise to call a halt to austerity before the end of the next parliament, as a result of a two-stage act of political conjuring.

Instead of the five-year austerity drive he pencilled in as recently as December, he has now set public spending on what the independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) called a “rollercoaster”.

The Treasury will now swing the axe more sharply than previously planned in 2016-17 and 2017-18, before switching back to deliver what the OBR calls “the biggest increase in real spending for a decade in 2019-20”.

It’s a boom-bust spending pattern for public services no Whitehall mandarin would deliberately plan — but it will help Osborne to ward off the accusation that he is on an ideological crusade to shrink the size of the state.

Second, the chancellor is counting on the proceeds of a pair of banking privatisations. He has announced plans to sell off a mountain of mortgages the government has owned since the bank bailouts, and a fresh batch of Lloyds Bank shares.

The handy £20bn proceeds – which, conveniently, he plans to pocket by the end of 2015 – will make no difference to the size of the public debt in the long term, because the state is losing out on the mortgage repayments and dividend income it would otherwise have received.

But critically, banking the income over the next 12 months allows the chancellor to fulfil his aim that debt would be falling as a share of GDP by 2015-16.

When it comes to the health of the economy, Osborne singled out international factors – not least the standoff between the combative Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, and his eurozone partners – as the key threats facing the economy.

Yet perhaps the largest question mark hanging over the future of Britain’s economy lies at home, in our woefully weak productivity record.

Rising productivity – the amount of output each worker produces – is the key to generating sustainable economic growth and higher living standards.

But while the UK economy has been creating jobs at the rate of more than 100,000 a quarter, allowing Osborne to claim that “Britain is working”, the fact is these workers are producing far less – and so being paid much less generously – than economists would predict.

In this latest set of forecasts, the OBR has scaled back its expectations for productivity growth; but it still expects a recovery to something like normal growth rates. And no one knows whether that will yet prove over-optimistic. As the OBR puts it: “Since it is difficult to explain the abrupt fall and persistent weakness of productivity in recent years, it is also hard to judge when or if productivity growth will return to its historical average”.

The balance of growth – between saving and consumption, imports and exports, debt-fuelled property speculation and sustainable long-term investment – is also far from what the chancellor hoped for. The OBR says the current account deficit for 2014 – probably the best measure of whether Britain can “pay its way in the world”, as Osborne likes to say – is likely to be at its highest level since the 1830s.

And two more inconvenient facts mar Osborne’s claim to have put Britain back on the road to recovery with the “long-term economic plan” that even the most disinterested voter must by now be bored of hearing about.

First, most of the modest upgrade to the Wednesday’s OBR forecasts for Britain’s long-term growth potential resulted not from the government’s economic management; not even from falling oil prices, which should boost consumers’ living standards and cut the cost of production for many businesses. Instead, it came from higher-than-expected inward migration, which boosts the size of the workforce.

“We now assume that net migration flows will tend towards 165,000 in the long term,” it says. That adds 0.6% to potential growth – the speed at which it can grow without stoking inflation – over the next five years.

Second, the recovery only really got off the ground in 2012, when the chancellor made a deliberate decision to ease off on the pace of austerity. We may finally have reached the sunlit uplands of the “comeback country”; but we might have got here sooner.

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