Once upon a happy time London buses were uniformly:
a London transport, diesel engine, ninety-seven horsepower omnibus.
The statutory cheery cockney (usually masquerading as a cheery Jamaican) conductor would, at the appropriate moment approaching Parliament Square, traditionally yell up the stairs:
Westminster gas works!
The double aim was to spread alarm and confusion among any tourists, and neatly put in its place the Mother of Parliaments.
Meanwhile, back inside that den of thieves, cheats and liars, the thieving, cheating and lying continues unabated.
Here’s Cameron’s first effort from yesterday’s PMQs:
The Prime Minister: The economy has grown by 1.8% over the last year …
Let’s take that one a bit slower, and visually:
That’s from Stephanie Flanders’s web-blog for the BBC, and she rightly points out:
Not so long ago, many were hoping for a strong bounceback from the slowdown at the end of 2010. Instead, the figures suggest that the UK economy has barely grown at all since the summer.
In other words the natural elastic is there in the system, and it should be going Boing! It isn’t.
Since that “emergency budget” by Gids Osborne brought the Brown-induced electoral mini-boost to a shuddering halt, the economy is flat as a pan-cake: down 0.4% one quarter, up about the same the next. Subject to two further revisions.
So Cameron is largely claiming credit for the six-months leads-and-lags of the Brown era.
Or as LabourList succinctly depicts it:
Pathetic Sad, really.
Then, a bit later there’s Cameron dropping the other bollick:
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Given that our recovery has, in effect, stalled since he became Prime Minister, does the right hon. Gentleman stand by what he said to this House after his first Budget last June, which was that unemployment will fall “every year” in this Parliament?
The Prime Minister: I was quoting the Office for Budget Responsibility, but the fact is that 390,000 more people are in private sector jobs than there were a year ago. I would have thought with the economy growing, with exports up, with manufacturing up and with more people in work, the right hon. Gentleman should be welcoming that, instead of joining the doom-mongers on his Front Bench, who can only talk the economy down.
The selective use of non-statistics (that specious distinction between public and private employment when the modish trick is “out-sourcing”) cannot disguise the realities:
The jobless total rose by 27,000 to 2.53m in the three months to January, the worst figure since 1994. The unemployment rate was 8 per cent of the workforce, the highest since last spring, up from 7.9 per cent in the previous quarter.
Unemployment among 16 to 24-year-olds rose by 30,000 to 974,000, a rate of 20.6 per in that age group, the highest since comparable records began in 1992. However, one-third were full-time students looking for part-time work.
That, incidentally, neatly coincides with all those “inspired” and concerted comments that the student population should be extracted from the statistics anyway. Moreover:
Most analysts still expect unemployment to rise in the coming months, largely because of public sector spending cuts implemented by the government, which are designed to bring down the UK’s budget deficit…
Economists suggest the economy would have to grow at an annual rate of about 2% for unemployment to fall.
In the final three months of last year, the economy shrank by 0.5%, and although many analysts expect a return to growth in the current quarter, few expect GDP to top 2% this year.
One never needs reminding that Cameron was a PR man:
Jeff Randall, writing in The Daily Telegraph where he is a senior executive, said he would not trust Mr Cameron “with my daughter’s pocket money”.
“To describe Cameron’s approach to corporate PR as unhelpful and evasive overstates by a widish margin the clarity and plain-speaking that he brought to the job of being Michael Green’s mouthpiece,” wrote the ex-BBC business editor.
“In my experience, Cameron never gave a straight answer when dissemblance was a plausible alternative, which probably makes him perfectly suited for the role he now seeks: the next Tony Blair,” Mr Randall wrote.
Sun business editor Ian King, recalling the same era, described Mr Cameron as a “poisonous, slippery individual”.
The “widish margin” of over-statement applies to that PMQ’s answer in another aspect: the blame-game of off-loading onto the OBR the promise of year-on-year employment growth. This is what Cameron said on 30th June last year, verbatim from Hansard:
Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): We were very concerned this morning to read reports that as a result of the right hon. Gentleman’s Budget, 1.3 million jobs will be lost. Can he confirm that this was an estimate produced by Treasury officials?
The Prime Minister: The right hon. and learned Lady should know- [Interruption.] I will give a surprisingly full answer if Opposition Members just sit patiently. This morning the Office for Budget Responsibility produced the full tables for the Budget for employment in the public and the private sector. That never happened under a Labour Government, right? As shown in the Budget, unemployment is forecast to fall every year under this Government, but the tables also show public sector employment. It is interesting that from the tables we can see the effect of Labour’s policy before the Budget and the effect of our policy after the Budget. What the figures show is that under Labour’s plans, next year there would be 70,000 fewer public sector jobs, and the year after that, there would be 150,000 fewer public sector jobs. We have had the courage to have a two-year pay freeze. I know we have all been watching the football, but that was a spectacular own goal.
Ms Harman: I know that the right hon. Gentleman has published some new figures today, but it is the figures that he has not published that I am asking about — the figures that show that 1.3 million jobs will be lost. Why will the Prime Minister not publish those Treasury documents? Why is he keeping them hidden?
The Prime Minister: The forecasts that are published now are independent from the Government. That is the whole point. [Interruption.] It is no good Opposition Members chuntering about that. They now support the Office for Budget Responsibility, completely independent of Government. The right hon. and learned Lady’s approach is extraordinary. Before the election the shadow Chancellor, the then Chancellor, was asked on BBC radio on 23 April 2010, and the transcript says:
“‘Will you acknowledge that public sector jobs will be cut?’
Darling: ‘It’s inevitable.’“
Ms Harman: But even the OBR says that under the Prime Minister’s Budget, unemployment will be higher than it would otherwise have been. It says that on today’s figures and it said that on last week’s figures.
Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the secret Treasury analysis shows that under his Budget, 500,000 jobs will be lost in the public sector, but even more will be lost in the private sector?
The Prime Minister: The figures published today show 2 million more private sector jobs. They show 1.4 million more people in work at the end of this Parliament. They show unemployment falling every year. It is not really any surprise that the former Labour Minister, Digby Jones, after the Budget said- [ Interruption. ] Why not listen?
For comparison, here is Osborne in his budget statement of 22nd June:
Growth in the UK economy for the coming five years is estimated to be 1.2% this year and 2.3% next year; then 2.8% in 2012 followed by 2.9% in 2013; and then 2.7% in both 2014 and 2015. Consumer price inflation is expected to reach 2.7% by the end of the year before returning to target in the medium term, and let me take this opportunity to confirm that the inflation target remains at 2% as measured on the consumer prices index.
The unemployment rate is forecast by the OBR to peak this year at 8.1% and then fall for each of the next four years to reach 6.1% in 2015. Some have suggested that there is a choice between dealing with our debts and going for growth. That is a false choice. The crisis in the eurozone shows that unless we deal with our debts, there will be no growth. These forecasts demonstrate that a credible plan to cut our budget deficit goes hand in hand with a steady and sustained economic recovery, with low inflation and falling unemployment. What is more, the forecast shows a gradual rebalancing of the economy, with business investment and exports playing a greater role and Government spending and debt-fuelled consumption a smaller role-a sustainable private sector recovery built on a new model of economic growth, instead of pumping the debt bubble back up.
That elides the fact that the OBR then was (it is now conveniently round the corner at 20 Victoria Street) simply an office inside the Treasury, down the corridor from Osborne’s office, staffed by Treasury officials, commenting on Treasury figures — in effect, little more than a branch of the Central Office of Information, glossing government doings:
A Memorandum of Understanding has been agreed between the OBR and the departments it works with most closely in producing its analysis: the Treasury, the Department for Work & Pensions and HM Revenue & Customs.
In Cameroonie PR-speak, independence is a relative term.
A year on, everyone of those OBR/Osborne/Cameron numbers looks very wonky:
- UK growth in 2010-11, 1.2%? See Stephanie above, but so far we’re arguing over tenths of a decimal point. Growth in the first half of 2010 (i.e. the period of that Brown-engineered mini-boom) was … 1.5%.
- UK growth in 2011-12, 2.3%? The latest OECD number Malcolm recalls was 1.7%.
- Consumer inflation around now, 2.7%. In fact, at 4%.
- Unemployment 8.1%? Phew! Only 8% (again see above), but the trend up by around 25,000 a quarter, and the big redundancies in the public sector still to count.
There is one other Cameroon stuffed rabbit-out-of-the-hat there: 1.4 million more people in work at the end of this Parliament.
Whenever gross number “in employment” are bandied around, we should bear in mind population growth of 0.7% year-on-year, and the age profile of the work-force. As the pension-age is deferred, the number of persons in employment has to increase by more than the number in each cohort, else gross unemployment increases.
There were, at the last count, 870,000 over-65s employed in Britain: 3% of the workforce.
If Cameron’s 1.4m additional employees by 2015 comes about, it will not even amount to the number anticipating increases in pensionable age.
Hold very tight, please! Ding! Ding!
In the days of those iconic Routemaster London buses, the gas-works of Britian were still producing poisonous coal-gas. That was Sylvia Plath‘s exit route of choice, and that of many others — conversion to natural gas alone accounted for the decline in suicides, particularly among women.
Now the toxin is Cameron’s poisonous, slippery use of pseudo-statistics, and his ability to invent one human shield after another (for the moment the OBR).