Hands up, who thinks Osborne’s Autumn Statement was the best in living memory? No takers? That’s no surprise. The only people to get excited about Gid’s speech were the usual suspects: the hacks in the Tory press, industrialists, rentier capitalists, Cittie wizards and energy tycoons.
This morning I awoke to hear The Economist’s Ann McElvoy on the Today programme say how Gid had “come into his own” as a speaker. She must have been listening to a different speech, because I don’t think he’s a natural speaker and besides, he used his speech to further attack the poor, who are paying for this economic crisis by having their benefits cut and being saddled with more debt.
To cap it all, Gid announced that there would be investment in shale gas (fracking) and the Northern Line would be extended to Battersea Power Station and the Tory-controlled borough of Wandsworth. I bet Delingpole’s happy. He probably has shares in petrochemical companies, which would explain his enthusiasm for fracking.
Delingpole isn’t the only one who’s pleased by the announcement of an impending shale gas rush. The Lyin’ King used the occasion to have another bash at the European Union… you know, the body that pays his salary. He says,
One of the reasons that the language in which you’re reading these words is the most widespread on Earth is that Great Britain happened to be rich in coal deposits. There were plenty of other places that might have industrialised first, from the Netherlands to China. The good fortune of our eighteenth century ancestors was that, just when they needed it, they stumbled upon a cheap source of energy. Coal powered the new mills, releasing millions of employees to do different work and creating a massive consumer class. Britain became the greatest nation in the world.
Er, what? So fracking is going to make us “great”? That’s nuts.
Janet Daley praised Gid for cutting corporation tax. Hooray! The rich can continue to get rich at our expense, while the structural deficit remains unchanged.
Iain Martin laid into Ed Balls, whose own solution would be to mimic the Tories’ approach but with warmer words. Let’s not kid ourselves: Labour would make cuts and impose burdens on the poor too. Millionaire, Liam Byrne, the shadow Works and Pensions secretary is well-known for his attacks on the poor and benefit claimants. He thinks unemployed people are simply idle and would rather live on £69 a week than do a day’s work.
The apparently left-leaning Guardian’s take was characteristically mixed. Martin Kettle only had nice things to say about Osborne’s speech.
In the end, Osborne wants to be able to go to the voters in 2015 and tell them four things: first, that Labour borrowed too much before 2010; second, that the coalition has cut the borrowing back to half of the 2010 figure; third, to claim that the borrowing cut has been achieved by targeting those on welfare and the very well off, rather than the not so squeezed middle, whom the government has tried to protect as far as possible; and, fourth, that Labour would increase borrowing again, spend more on welfare and restart the whole miserable cycle. If he can do this, Osborne seems to believe that he may have an election-winning narrative.
Remember, The Guardian supported the Liberal Democrats at the last election and has historically been a Liberal paper. Its left credentials are only relative to the rest of the press, which leans overwhelmingly to the right.
Perhaps the worst part of yesterday’s Autumn Statement was Balls’s reply or rather, the government’s mocking of his stutter.
So how did he do it? Well, turn to p. 12 of the Office for Budget Responsibility document and it becomes clear that Osborne has performed an accounting trick worthy of Enron. First, he added the expected £3.5bn receipts from the 4G mobile spectrum auction – even though it’s yet to take place. Second, he included the interest transferred to the Treasury from the Bank of England’s Quantitative Easing programme (worth £11.5bn), despite the Institute for Fiscal Studies warning him that it would call into doubt his credibility. Were it not for these two measures, borrowing would be £15bn higher than stated by Osborne. If we add that £15bn to the £108bn figure provided by Osborne, then total forecast borrowing for this year becomes £123bn, £1.4bn higher than last year. Little wonder that the Chancellor was so keen to bag the 4G receipts early.
Perhaps the worst of yesterday’s “mini-budget” was the announcement that austerity (that’s the same austerity that Dizzy Doug Carswell said “didn’t exist”) will continue for another 6 years.
All in all, the Autumn Statement was weak. It offered nothing for the poor, the low-waged, the disabled or those on benefits. Instead, it redistributed wealth upwards to those who are already rich. 400,000 more people would pay the top rate of tax, while those who have made use of tax avoidance schemes will carry on as normal. There was no plan for a sustainable economic recovery. If you’re not rich in today’s Britain, you will be used for target practice by the bullies who run the government or as a source of income by parasitical capitalists.
This economic crisis has been made worse by this Tory-led government, who have demonstrated over the past two and a half years, exactly how economically illiterate and incompetent they are. They’ve mismanaged the economy and pitted one group of people against another so that they can rule unchallenged. Do we really have to wait another two years to vote this shower out of office?