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Saturday, 18 March 2017

Gideon in Blunderland

It is not 'false news' that the politician known as George Osborne was called Gideon in his childhood and youth. Anybody who changes his name - presumably because of the awareness that some other people think the name by which they have been known is, shall one say, quaint - has to some measure a lack of self-confidence. This trait could be detected in the ministerial statements of 'George': his voice became shrill and his utterance staccato when he came under pressure, notably in the House of Commons.

Despite this, he persisted in developing and implementing the most disastrous package of policies in recent British history. His successor as Chancellor of the Exchequer has clearly accepted a consensus Treasury view that no other policy options exist for him. So, despite an increasing, ageing population whose demographics are mitigated largely by children from immigrant and ghetto families who need special instruction in English and in social norms for the UK, real-terms school budgets are being cut. The health and social care budgets are now universally understood not to be adequate. The residual local government budgets for street lighting and cleaning, the maintenance of parks and libraries and local bus services, are all being cut back. The double-edged sword of budget restrictions and rising prices are surely and steadily undermining the quality of life for the British people as a whole: but especially the poorest, with the disabled most conspicuously affected.

Osborne regularly boasted about the reported 'rate of growth' of the British economy. Yet he could not deny that this growth was not supporting rising real living standards. He accepted the Economists' mantra that the reported rate of growth did real people no good because those people had low productivity. So he read out an endless series of speeches advocating that some mystic force within the socio-economic system should stimulate 'the makers' to increase productivity and then all would be well. By contrast, his actions were to stimulate and encourage alien investors to buy and to build factories in the UK that could consume British labour - at existing or even lower wages - as an acceptable input cost. The lower the living standards of British workers could be driven, in real terms, the cheaper British labour would become on the global market. Mrs May and Mr Hammond are less-adroitly pursuing the same policy.

The other prong of his policy, that he advertised widely, was the creation of a 'northern power house'. The Thatcherite devastation of the industrial regions of the UK has barely been mitigated in the three decades since the fall of Thatcher: largely because Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron were all 'Maggie's children' ideologically. It is unclear whether Mrs May has enough knowledge of Economics, Political Economy or the real world to have such a position: or to repudiate it. In Osborne's view of the world, the midlands and the north of England can be rejuvenated by the alien purchase of existing businesses plus the implantation of some foreign firms; plus the invention of some pattern of funding for indigenous new British businesses with innovative ideas that will not strip the inventors of their firms: this last has been far beyond the reach of Osborne and the Treasury that he led. One thing that can be done by politicians, akin to moving deckchairs on the Titanic, is to change the structure of local government. This has been done, but so far the signs are that the new mega-mayors will be subject to the same financial squeeze as the whole of local government.

With this magnificent record behind him, Osborne has accepted a £600,000-plus job with an alien firm that mobilises investment around the world. He claims that he can remain MP for Tatton and serve the constituents properly. And now he is to be editor of the Evening Standard. I wonder what the wonderful Economics Editor of that paper makes of this farrago. Anthony Hilton has been a hugely well-informed, querulous commentator, whose views on the new boss will be awaited with massive interest: if he is allowed to utter them.

Commentators have assumed that Gideon has taken on this new role so that he has a platform for anti-Brexit propaganda. It is probably beyond his comprehension that his advocacy of the Remain camp, and the extremity of the forecasts of disaster that he promulgated, were significant features of the people's reaction to the referendum campaign overall. Thank goodness, editors [other than perhaps the custodian of the Guardian dreamworld] do not have significant influence over their readers: least of all if they adopt hysterical, extremist positions.

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