In his Autumn Statement, in reality yet another budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has scrapped plans to abolish Tax Credits immediately and has decided that he can no longer stand in front of Jeremy Corbyn’s condemnations of the way he is making the poor poorer. But is it all it seems?
This is what, the fifth budget in 15 months? What are we to make of it?
First it is difficult to describe it as a plan for the economy. How short a time is it since George Osborne was telling us that without getting rid of tax-credits the economic sky would fall in and people would stop looking for any, more or better work?
It was the concerted voice of the Labour Party that said cutting the income of the poorest, who rely on Tax Credits to make their own budgets meet, while at the same time increasing the income of the richest, was driving this country towards a society so inequitable that it would be looked upon as a revival of the ethics of the Victorian work-house. Many Tory back-benchers agreed. The Lords, usually the bastion of conservatism, followed the Labour line.
Now the Chancellor has agreed through his Autumn Statement. Has he been convinced by the Labour Party?
Plans for which there were no alternatives have suddenly been discarded. And why?
The answer is simple: because it is a budget for the Tory leadership contest not for the good of the country. It is aimed at Tory MPs who will decide who the leadership contestants are in Toryland. George Osborne appears in the House of Commons fashion parading Jeremy Corbyn’s clothes and he believes the universal condemnation for hitting the poorest hardest through the abolition of tax-credits ceases. In the eyes of Tory MPs, George is a clever boy: shall we make him Prime Minister?
So how was the Chancellor able to do this? Quite simply it is based on fortuitously finding a note tucked down the back of a treasury sofa which said “Dear Chancellor, Things are going to be better than ever next year, mate. Reckon the country is good for an extra £27 billion in the Treasury purse. Yours with love, Office for Budget Responsibility.”
Now the Office for Budget Responsibility, George Osborne’s invention for enabling him to blame someone else when things go sour, has a track record of getting its forecasts wrong, so suddenly coming up with unbridled optimism is hardly re-assuring. To quote John Kenneth Galbraith “The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable”.
Then of course there is the small print rather than the headline speech. Take a look at http://press.labour.org.uk/ to see that once again the reality is not all it seems. There are already bits of the tax credit system designed by Labour being dismantled, and the Universal Credit is calculated to make the poor poorer.
Do we really believe that George Osborne has adopted the Labour value of a more equal society? Do hedge-fund managers and bankers eat gruel and drink tap-water?
What is clear is that the Tory government could not stand up to the united voice of the Labour Party.