Category Archives: George Osborne

Wednesday, 13th September, 2017

Business of the day:

Getting books back on the shelves. Oddly, they fitted neatly until I tried to sort them a bit more logically. Half of Irish history is yet in a pile on the floor.

An hour spent untangling the spaghetti of a Mac, three hard drives, a CD-ROM, a printer, three assorted iPods, an iPad, a speaker system … eleven power points in use, off two wall sockets. The impossible we do on a regular basis. Miracles (why won’t the Big Bastard iTunes back-up show as connected?) have taken a trifle longer.

Book of the day:

Well into le Carré (page 143 of 264). Must have had a sleepful night.

Gripe of the day:

That same le Carré dust-cover.

It is oh-so-arty matte black. The result is it retains the imprint of every finger that holds it.

Quote of the day:

The day is still young, but I doubt anything is going to top this (Ed Caesar interviewing Gids Osborne for Esquire):

Osborne’s animus against May is complicated in origin — personal, political, ideological, tactical — but purely felt. When I met him at the Standard this past spring, he was polite enough about the prime minister. But according to one staffer at the newspaper, Osborne has told more than one person that he will not rest until she “is chopped up in bags in my freezer”.

Ear-worm of the day:

September in the rain. Problem is the internal sound-track keeps switching from the best (Dinah Washington) to the merely good (Julie London).

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Filed under Apple, Conservative family values, George Osborne, John le Carré

Long-term economic … what?

Look, I don’t want to hammer at this. Too much.

What I’m getting at is a simple question: what is this magnificent Tory “Long-term economic plan”?

The Tory’s own attempt at a definition is on their own web-site:

LTEP

That got them through the election campaign, and — as Larry Elliott succinctly derived it:

To amend Abraham Lincoln’s famous saying, in a UK general election you don’t need to fool all of the people all of the time, you just need to fool enough of the people for the duration of a six-week campaign.

Round about now the wheels start to fall off that abortion. Notice, for example, the conflation of “capping welfare” and “working to control immigration”. Not, note as well, the more pointed, direct and verbally-efficient “controlling immigration”  — this on the day we learn Margaret Thatcher’s government enters the surreal:

Britain’s National Archives on Friday released a 1983 government file called “Replantation of Northern Ireland from Hong Kong,” which showed British officials discussing a far-fetched proposal to settle 5.5 million Hong Kong people in a newly built “city state” between Coleraine and Londonderry in the uncertain years before Britain handed back the former British colony to Chinese rule.

This, we are assured was a Civil Service “joke”. That’s ignoring the parallel fact that the great Edward Pearce (who lives just down the road from Redfellow Cott), about the same time, was suggesting the solution for Hull was to hand it over to the Hong Kong Chinese.

So I, for one, am not convinced that this “Long-term economic plan” is worth the paper it hasn’t been printed on. Even Stalin and the East Germans put their Five Year Plans into written form.

Except …

… and I do so hope someone points this pout to Gids Osborne.

This “Long-term economic plan” had a prior existence, out of the same putative 18th-baronet’s mouth:

A generation ago, the very idea that a British politician would go to Ireland to see how to run an economy would have been laughable. The Irish Republic was seen as Britain’s poor and troubled country cousin, a rural backwater on the edge of Europe. Today things are different. Ireland stands as a shining example of the art of the possible in long-term economic policymaking, and that is why I am in Dublin: to listen and to learn.

For good reasons Osborne’s speech of 23rd February 2006 has been purged from Tory records and Tory thinking.

Still, we know now what Osborne’s “Long-term economic plan”, Mark One, was about:

Some will quibble there: all capitalism involves cronies. Chomsky nailed that in one:

What’s capitalism supposed to be? Yeah, it’s crony capitalism. That’s capitalism, you do things for your friends, your associates, they do things for you, you try to influence the political system, obviously. You can read about this in Adam Smith. If people read Adam Smith instead of just worshipping him, they could learn a lot about how economies work. So, for example, he’s concerned mostly with England, and he pointed out that in England, and I’m virtually quoting, he said the merchants and manufacturers are the principal architects of government policy and they make sure their own interests are well cared for, however grievous the effects on others…

So, next week, when Osborne spouts his umpteenth “emergency budget’, there’s just one more question, at the heart of the “long-term economic plan”:

Cui bono?

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Filed under Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., George Osborne, Ireland, Tories.

Ambition should be made of sterner stuff

There’s something very odd about the present Tory excesses against Ed Miliband.

Promoting him from “useless” (Cameron at PMQs, passim) to the most dangerous species in the known universe, and that in only a few days, isn’t so much a “reversed ferret” as a weasel in fast rotation. The two concepts are so opposite, we are seeing an assault on recent memory, and an experiment in mass-psychology, otherwise found only in Orwellian 1984:

In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality, was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense. And what was terrifying was not that they would kill you for thinking otherwise, but that they might be right. For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable what then? 

What I don’t grasp is:

that gruff Australian forcing the Conservatives to adopt foreign — and tackily blunt — policies, a win-at-all-costs strategist who is a short-term blow-in.

To his fans — including some of the country’s most senior Conservatives, from Cameron to Chancellor of the Exchequer ­George Osborne and Lord Mayor of London Boris Johnson, touted as the next Tory leader — he is the election messiah who can keep the party on message and on track.

Or:

  • whether senior ministers have gone off-message and into shroud-waving mode, in pursuit of something more, and something even more spine-chilling.

Take an earlier model: Sir David Maxwell Fyfe. This character, as Home Secretary, fancied his chances in the succession to Churchill. Maxwell Fyfe was by no means the worst, most shell-backed Tory of that time. Yet, when presented with a petition from a third of the Commons to reprieve Derek Bentley, he still sent that unhappy young man to the gallows in Wandsworth Prison. The main justification for that appalling act still seems to be Maxwell Fyfe buffing his Laura Norder creds with the Tory right-wing.

So, consider:

Whether the Tories come out of this Election as “largest party” with, or without “largest share of the vote” is immaterial, if — as generally expected — Cameron cannot then form a government.

Two things then happen:

  • Cameron goes, or is pushed;
  • The Tory Party, in and out of Parliament, swings further right.

If Dave is trashed, can his close mate, Gids, be far behind? Thus there is a third likelihood: George Osborne, being seen to have inadequately sugared the pre-Election budget pill, is nominated as co-can-carrier. His aura of smart-arsedness gone, he is no longer a runner in the leadership handicap. Which leaves BoJo and May or A.N.Outsider.

Who might be calculating their chances in a post-Dave set-up? It isn’t just the “Leader of the Opposition” job on offer. It’s a place at the Shadow Cabinet table, and well above the salt as well. Hence it will be necessary to have had “a good war” in 2015 Election terms. Just as Maxwell Fyfe woke up to realise he wasn’t getting Anthony Eden’s post, he settled for Lord Chancellor — but still had to put in the work to impress the selectors.

Does that, possibly, explain why Michael Fallon, normally mild of manner and moderate of tone,  has upped the ante?

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Filed under Conservative family values, David Cameron, George Osborne, History, Times, Tories.

One has to wonder

Anthony Wells tacitly poses the question:

YouGov’s two sets of voting intention figures are CON 33%, LAB 34%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 15% in the Sun on Sunday poll, and CON 33%, LAB 33%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 16%, GRN 6% in the Sunday Times (Sun Times tabs are here, Sun on Sunday should be up tomorrow) – so still showing the two main parties very close to one another.

On which, I have just two observations:

  • One particular: the same polling operation (YouGov), paid by the same other operation (Murdoch, via News UK, a subsidiary of NewsCorp), produce two sets of numbers. Admittedly the statistical difference is slight, but it is the difference between a “tie” and a “lead” — which is also (especially for a reader of The Sun) the difference between three points for a 1-o win and a single point for a 0-0 draw . By (quite obviously) no coincidence that slight but telling difference represents different narratives, which — curiously but neatly — fit those of the two “news”papers.
  • More generally, that little lot about sums my view of opinion polls and their interpretation. And that is more significant.

To repeat myself:

Opinion polls, outside of an imminent (that is a span of days, not weeks or months) election are totally valueless. There is no constraint, no check on findings.

Since, by definition, such polls cannot be validated by votes-in-boxes, they are, also by definition, valueless.

However, they fill “news” columns, provide editors and their subs with a predictable supply of column fodder. They keep the paper’s tame “expert” in employment: this, without exception, is a university psephologist or another self-serving crony in the polling business —in both cases, then, with a vested interest in keeping this balloon inflated. As Private Eye always says, “Trebles all round”.

Above all, they are statistical constructs, derived from arcane algorithms based on assumptions about the population on which the small samples are based.

Hence, they exist within “margins of error”.

The bottom line

My objection is not to the polls, which are harmless, the wind-blown spinnings of a spider:

… so light a foot
Will ne’er wear out the everlasting flint:
A lover may bestride the gossamer
That idles in the wanton summer air,
And yet not fall; so light is vanity.

[Which is Shakespeare’s better advert for Durex: the other is King Lear, Act IV, scene 6].

Yet, consider the spider.

Its work is neatly illustrated by the Independent on Sunday‘s two (usually reliable) commentators. John Rentoul opines:

David Cameron could not believe his luck. He was about to lose a by-election to the most irritating bunch of people a moderate Conservative prime minister could imagine, when Ed Miliband decided to distract journalists with a class-based comedy caper.

One of Cameron’s aides was so astonished by the Opposition’s mistake that he could hardly contain himself when we spoke the next day. The gist, with the expletives deleted, was that Miliband and his advisers had lost possession of their faculties, but this was mixed with outrage at their sheer lack of professionalism, as if he felt his craft had been insulted.

“The broadcasters were unsure if they were going to report it,” he said, of Emily Thornberry’s condescending tweet about England flags and a white van in Strood. “So they phoned Ed Miliband’s office and were briefed that he had never been so angry. It was like putting petrol on a fire.”

Got that? The whole narrative-thrust of the Rochester by-election is being dictated by the Downing Street spinners.

In parallel, Steve Richards then invites us into the age of anti-politics, concluding:

The loathed politicians agonise and differ over what to do about these big issues, but few notice. Thornberry has gone for taking a photo. White Van Dan is a celebrity. The main party leaders feel gloomy about being loathed and yet are perceived as arrogant and indifferent. Welcome to the mad world of British politics in a dangerous state of flux.

Hold on a mo: if you allow your narrative to be dictated by faceless spin-doctors, manipulating the crudest end of the Murdoch tabloid empire, what do you expect?

Prestidigitation

Back at the ranch, in the meanwhile, George Osborne’s “long-term economic plan” has just gone rotten pear-shaped, but was downgraded in The Times (once, proudly, “a newspaper of record) to page 60, on 22 November — you’d have found it sandwiched between nougat and toy trains:

Public sector borrowing between April to October this year rose £3.7bn compared to the same period the previous year, according to figures from the Office of National Statistics.

Public sector net borrowing excluding public sector banks (PSNB ex) from April to October 2014 was £64.1bn…

Government cash requirement from April to October was £56.2bn, an increase of £20.3bn compared with the same period the previous year…

Public sector net debt excluding public sector banks (PSND ex) was up £97.1bn in October 2014 compared to October the previous year.

The speed of the spinner’s tongue versus the eyes of even the most adapt commentators?

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Filed under Conservative Party policy., economy, George Osborne, Murdoch, politics, polls, Sunday Times, Times

After hubris, nemesis

One moment the Tory agitprop-pedlars are telling us how it’s all fine-and-dandy — a day or so ago there was a hysterical screech that “only the collapse of the housing market can save Labour”. Note, there, that houses are not homes where real people live, but exist primarily to be a marketable commodity.

Then a faint whiff of reality (accompanied by a shiver of fear) intrudes. One such is found in Isabel Hardman’s Speccie piece:

Government borrowing is up – the economic picture isn’t as rosy as the Tories say

It’s tempting given the optimistic mood on the Conservative benches at the moment to think that everything is just great with the economy. Not so, according to today’s borrowing figures from the ONS, which show that government borrowing was higher than expected: George Osborne borrowed £13.3bn in May, up £0.7bn from the same month last year, and much higher than the £9.35bn forecast. Tax receipts have been weaker than expected, which has contributed to higher net borrowing.

This is accompanied by a neat graph, which is superbly interactive in the original (but not so in this clip):

Untitled

Ms Hardman, to her credit, may work for a scandal sheet of dubious pedigree; but she has a sharp nose to go with her appropriate surname.

Now, as I have been saying too frequently, and most recently in connexion with the unemployment numbers, I am profoundly suspicious of how we are being fed this Osborne Wirtschaftswunder. Below the encrusted gilding, there’s an awful lot of brass neck. John Rentoul makes just that point, borrowing graphs from  and this one from fullfact.org:

employment-history-context1

This, as the original makes clear, is a typical “bad graph”— which is why, as indicated by the “close-up” there, it is the way the Department of Work and Pensions likes to present and mis-represent it.

HuffThose of us of a certain length-in-the-tooth remember Darrell Huff exposed just this kind of fraud, as far back as 1954. Amazingly, with updating, How to Lie with Statistics is still in print.

For it is a fraud. Since this particular example comes from the Department headed by Iain Duncan Smith, we should not be surprised by the sleight of hand. The only question about IDS’ handling of his Department is whether he is plain ignorant or malevolently deceptive.

The Treasury is up to the same tricks. When Martin Rowson borrowed Méret Oppenheim’s fur cup (it’s a pun, geddit?), he was being unduly generous:

Martin Rowson 07.07.2012

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Filed under Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., crime, economy, George Osborne, Isabel Hardman, The Spectator, Tories.

Sing when you’re winning …

… spin like hell when you’re not.

cities_in_flightThe Dillon-Wagoner Graviton Polarity Generator under Downing Street must be at full stretch:

The spindizzy field was up. It was invisible in itself, but it was no longer admitting the air of the Earth.

The myth…

Everything in the Tory garden is lovely. And is under strict instruction to remain so for the next fourteen months.

Anticipating All Fools’ Day, yesterday we had Gids Osborne anticipating “full employment”. We can expect to hear more, much more of such twaddle over the next year.

Dress it up and it looks like this:

Budget-employment

Note the little ConHome symbol in the bottom left corner. Consider what that graph would look like were it framed less narrowly.

However even ConHome are not wholly convinced:

it’s worth noting that “full employment” doesn’t actually mean having everyone who can work in work. In truth, it kinda means whatever you want it to mean. Some take “full employment” to mean an unemployment rate of around 5 per cent. Some prefer to see it as an employment rate of 80 per cent. Some think it’s got something to do with phases of the moon and ley lines.

51pnFR8xNcL._SY300_Should anyone think “full employment” means what it used to mean — the Beveridge’s 1944 notion of 3% natural churn — forget it. Even Osborne (and we’re still with ConHome here) doesn’t quite mean “full employment” when that is what he says :

So what is Osborne’s definition? He spelt it out pretty plainly in his speech. “To have more people working than any of the other countries in the G7 group,” he said, “That’s my ambition.” Which means, in effect, overtaking the employment rates of Germany (73.5 per cent), Canada (72.4 per cent), Japan (72.2 per cent). We’re currently languishing in fourth place, on 71 per cent.

The zero sum game

What we don’t know is more telling that what we are told in the hum of the Spindizzies: how many of these jobs are full-time? How many are zero-hours contracts?

Well, perhaps we have some sort of idea for that:

Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, attacked the government after the figures released by the Office for National Statistics found that 582,935 workers were on the contracts in 2013.

The big increase in the figures, which is three times higher than the number given for the year the coalition was formed in 2010, follows a change in the way that the ONS assesses zero-hours contracts last summer. This meant that it increased its estimate for the number of workers on the contracts in 2012 from 200,000 to 250,000. The new methodology helped to produce the high figure for 2013.

Even that may not be the full accounting:

There is suggestion that the ONS might still be underestimating the figure. Britain’s largest trade union, Unite, has cited research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) which has said that 1 million workers are on the contracts. Dilnot instructed the ONS to examine the CIPD work in its new assessment. The union said: “Unite believes that, in general, zero-hours contracts are unfair, creating insecurity and exploitation for many ordinary people struggling to get by.”

If getting real numbers for zero-hours is difficult, having the ConDem government to recognise realities is far more so. Yesterday’s Hansard:

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Esther McVey): Thanks to the Government’s long-term economic plan, youth unemployment is falling. I am particularly pleased that long-term youth unemployment has fallen by 38,000 over the last year…
Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): Of the young people the Minister just mentioned who have a job, how many have gone on to work on zero-hours contracts?
Esther McVey: As the hon. Lady will know, the number of zero-hours contracts has remained fairly stable since 2000. They are called zero hours or casual hours, and they are used by Liverpool city council and Wirral council, which are Labour run. The worst council for using them is Doncaster.
We are having a full review of zero-hours contracts, and if they are exploitative we will bring about changes. Our report is due in July—something that Labour did not do for 13 years.

Pants on fire

article-2455471-18ACD5CC00000578-288_634x672-1On the contrary, Miss McVey (as left), the number of zero-hours contracts has increased disproportionately.

A report by Matthew Pennycook and others, for the Resolution Foundation, argued:

Establishing a precise estimate of the scale of zero-hours contract use is extremely difficult. Statistics relating to zero-hours contracts are not only likely to suffer from a significant degree of reporting error (many of those working under such contracts fail to accurately self-identify themselves as such) but there is also widespread ignorance among those on such contracts about their precise contractual situation.

There are two main sources of statistics on zero-hours contracts: the Office of National Statistics’ Labour Force Survey (LFS) and the Workplace Employment Relations Study (WERS). According to LFS estimates from the three-month period October to December 2012, 208,000 people reported that they were on a zero-hours contract (0.7 per cent of the workforce). This was up from just over 134,000 (0.5 per cent of the workforce) in 2006. Given the data limitations detailed above and strong evidence to suggest extensive use of zero-hours contracts in particular occupations and sectors (the National Minimum Dataset for Social Care, for example, estimates that 150,000 domiciliary care-workers alone are employed on zero-hours contracts7) it is clear that these headline figures are likely to be an extremely conservative estimate. Yet even on the basis of conservative estimates a clear upward trend, as shown in Figure 1 below, is apparent. 

So let’s have Figure 1:

Zero-hours growth

The Pennycook Report erred by deriving the available “official” statistics. As we saw above, the latest ONS figure is 2¾ times that again: 582,935.

Truth or Consequences

 Once known as Hot Springs, Truth or Consequences New Mexico is a small resort town with a year-round population of slightly more than 6,000.

Nearer home, the consequences of the banking Crash and the subsequent Slump it induced is:

Nearly half the jobs in parts of Britain pay less than the living wage, theTUC has said, as it steps up its campaign on Tuesday for workers to earn enough to cover the basic costs of living.

The TUC said a breakdown of official figures showed that on average around 20% of workers are earning less than the living wage – an informal and unenforceable benchmark – but that this rose to almost 50% in some parliamentary constituencies.

Designed to top up the legally-binding national minimum wage, the living wage is set at £8.80 an hour in London and £7.65 for the rest of the country. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, says he wants to include the idea as part of Labour’s 2015 manifesto, while David Cameron says he supports a living wage in principle.

The TUC said that in total around 5 million people were being paid less than the living wage, with some of the areas with the greatest concentration of the low paid seen in parts of outer London.

What Osborne doesn’t say

There may have been good reasons, back in 2008-9, to spread the jobs around. Half-a-decade on, what we have is a low-wage, low-productivity economy.

The Financial Times‘s post-budget analysis was scathing:

… by far the biggest cloud hanging over the UK economy remains the productivity crisis.

While output per hour worked used to grow annually by about 2 per cent, it has not expanded at all since 2007. Without this productivity growth, there is no means of raising living standards except in the short term if people spend more than they earn.

The puzzle of why productivity appears to have stopped growing is no closer to being solved and it casts a shadow over Mr Osborne’s Budget. Even in the Autumn Statement last December, which included the economic revival in its forecasts, the picture of the longer-term outlook for the public finances was worse than last March. The deficit would certainly be lower with faster growth, but without productivity improvements, the OBR could not honestly predict the economy would keep expanding at its current pace for the next five years.

So, what exactly does Osborne’s “full employment” amount to?

If it is more of the same — low-paid, low-quality, labour-intensive, poor-productivity jobs — that is promised continued misery for millions. There will also be a short-fall in tax take, which means a squeeze on welfare and services.

It means, too, a weaker Britain, because Britain is no longer making it any more. Our marker of failure is that a quarter of all the containers going out of British ports came in full of goods, and are going out full of air.

Take a bit of historical perspective, from Larry Elliott in The Observer:

Forget Harold Wilson and the jumbo jets that allegedly cost Labour the 1970 election. Forget Nigel Lawson and the import binge of the 1980s. Britain has never seen bigger current account deficits than those it is notching up right now.

Back in the 1960s, a deficit of 1% of national output would have been seen as dangerously high. A 3% deficit would have had investors heading for the exits, prompting a run on sterlingThe shortfalls in the third and fourth quarters of 2013 averaged 5.5% of GDP, we learned last week, and yet the pound is seen as a safe-haven currency.

Which all might explain why I’m looking for hidden meanings in Blish’s Cities in Flight:

There was money aboard the city, but no ordinary citizen ever saw it … It was there to be used exclusively for foreign trade — that is, to bargain for grazing rights, or other privileges and, supplies which the city did not and could not carry within the little universe bounded by its spindizzy field.

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Filed under Britain, ConHome, economy, fiction, Financial Times, George Osborne, Guardian, Observer, politics

Five Feet High and Risin’

You knew that was coming.

But what has been falling?

Apart from the rain? Well, try this:

Flood Defences

 

That should be read in three ways:

  1. The regular increases from 2007/8 to 2010/11 were  a recognition by the “spendthrift” Labour government that there were roofs, or rather  riverbeds to fix while the sun was suing.
  2. The programmed cuts by the ConDem government, under Osborne’s panic-inducing Spending Review, were flying in the face of all reasoned prediction, and were a (now lost) hostage to fortune.
  3. The blue “Additional Capital funding”, with the extra bunce Cameron found down the back of the sofa last Wednesday, should be interpreted as “Sorry! We were wrong!”

Oh, and there’s this:

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will deliver resource savings of an average 8% a year, but we will fund a major improvement in our flood defences and coastal erosion management that will provide better protection for 145,000 homes.

From the horse’s arse himself: The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr George Osborne), House of Commons, 20th October 2010.

An object lesson

Now for a bit more musical accompaniment (and how a Nervous Nellie should deal with a big fool):

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Filed under Britain, Conservative Party policy., economy, George Osborne, weather