The hubris of George Osborne


I am flabbergasted how anyone could not see exactly how it would play when the Chancellor proposed cutting the Personal Independence Payment.  An arrogant, out of touch politician making savings by punishing people with serious disabilities while giving tax cuts to more prosperous professionals. That’s the popular image, and this terrible policy has reinforced it. The fact that George Osborne couldn’t see it coming is testament to his  emotional vacancy; when everything is a political game, and you are preoccupied by scheming, you cannot see the woods from the trees.

Centrism is the key to winning elections, the conventional wisdom goes, but surely good policy and economic security are more important? So much government spending is now ring fenced for political reasons, and the lust for necessary major reform curbed by Osborne’s ambition for power, that instead he decided to cut £4.2 billion intended to help disabled people live their daily lives. It is bad policy and bad politics and it has damaged the reputation of the Chancellor and his party while destabilising the Government at the same time. It is the actions of a man out of touch with the people, self-absorbed and corrupted by ambition and once again suggests that his mastery of politics and is a little overrated, his blundering budget was political ineptitude.

I’m not surprised Iain Duncan Smith has resigned. Over the years he has been the lightning rod for criticism of welfare cuts. While he has seen it as a mission of social justice Osborne has framed it purely in money saving terms. It is Osborne that uses language about “shirkers”, “scroungers” and curtain twitchers, language that it often falsely attributed to IDS who has insisted it is “not my language”. Osborne is known to sneer at IDS’s “religious” mission and it is an open secret that he thinks his former Welfare Secretary is none too bright. This time the Treasury chose the wrong cut, made a total hash of how it sold the policy to the press, and then looked set to use IDS as the fall guy once again. With tensions already simmering, IDS blew his top.

It is no wonder that so many people are angry at this latest blunder; Osborne uses the language of austerity while spending like a drunken sailor. There is plenty of scope to slim down the state, but it requires a certain kind of radicalism that Osborne has eschewed in favour of trying to ease himself into Downing Street. With no opposition, now was the time to be bold after securing a majority.

A restructuring of government by merging and closing departments, sharing the burden of welfare cuts instead of making the working age population bear it all, further radical welfare reform such as addressing the Housing Benefit problem or even thinking of a serious overhaul, and doing away with ring fences and looking at how to reform the NHS and the education system. Instead we have an attempt to hold the centre ground through a triangulation strategy; the aim being to get Osborne into Downing Street and position the party for an easy win in 2020.

Osborne is going through a period of turmoil far worse that his “pasty” drama back in 2012 and they can all be put down to his political machinations. He tried to pose as a multi-national basher with his tax deal with Google and his self-aggrandisement soon unravelled humiliatingly, making a fool of himself and enraging Google. He made exaggerated boasts about the amount of extra tax revenue gained from lowering the top rate; claiming it to be £8 billion which was immediately debunked. It was totally unnecessary hyperbole when the policy, good in itself, didn’t need dishonesty to be defended. The Autumn Statement was a debacle; again blinded by his need to self-aggrandise he irresponsible called and end to austerity and used wildly optimistic forecasts (we did warn you) to go on a spending splurge. This is what happens when you turn running the Treasury into a leadership campaign.

Elements within the Party are clearly getting fed up with his games, and his Brownian policies. Having planned to abolish higher-rate tax relief on pensions, and lower the threshold at which money invested in a pension pot begin to attract high rates of tax, he retreated after a severe backlash against this cynical – and thoroughly un-conservative – stealth tax raid. He was defeated on Sunday trading laws and rebuked when he considered raising motor fuel duty. The building cost of the Hinkley Point Power Station has almost trebled and it is rapidly becoming a white elephant, along with several of his other infrastructure projects. As for the virtue signalling sugar tax, it’s just plain bad policy, again.

Above all else, the main issue is that the Chancellor is failing in his duties to balance the books and secure the British economy and he is using Blairite style spin to conceal it. The budget was chock full of poor policy, state corporatist infrastructure spending and dodgy forecasts. He is the most profligate Chancellor in British history; after nearly six years of his stewardship the deficit still stands at £70 billion and the national debt has doubled to just under £2 trillion. Yet he still speaks of ‘living within our means’ and hypocritically snipes at Gordon Brown for spending ‘money the country didn’t have’ while labelling the budget ‘one for the next generation’ – indeed, one for the next generation to pay for, and the one after that too! This is the kind of deception you can expect from someone who calls Tony Blair “the master” and takes advice from Peter Mandelson.

Britain’s economy is in a perilous position to cope with a global economic downturn and we are in the process of passing on debts equivalent to £100,000 to ever family to future generations. So much for the “long term economic plan”; the slogan has become meaningless as the Chancellor has failed to stick to a plan and failed to respond adequately to the wild overspending and rising debt of UK plc. The only long term plan for Osborne has been to become the prime minister; his record suggests he isn’t fit to be Chancellor, never mind leader of this country.

After all the promise of 2010. The aims were clear: Abolish the deficit, begin paying down the debt, simplify the tax code and merge income tax and national insurance, streamline government and shrink the state; George Osborne lost his way, and it is largely down to hubris.

Ben is the Conservatives for Liberty Web Editor.  He blogs at The Sceptic Isle. Follow him on Twitter: @TheScepticIsle

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The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty