By John Charles Dyer, UK Correspondent
PM David Cameron, Chancellor George Osborne, Treasury Deputy Secretary Danny Alexander laugh at Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls wrong footed by an accounting ruse on the front page of today's Guardian. The picture has gone viral on the internet as the symbol of their heart hearted delusional policies.
5 December 2012. The Chancellor delivered his “Autumn Statement.” Autumn, you ask? Well, yes, Autumn - delivered in Winter. Makes perfect sense.
The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement is meant to be a combination fiscal progress report and budget for the forthcoming period. It announces initiatives the government will take in light of the country’s fiscal and economic health (or lack thereof).
Making this year’s Autumn Statement just a fortnight ahead of the darkest night in Winter makes a certain kind of perfect sense. In a remarkably direct way it reflects the statement itself. The Chancellor delivered “news” he would not meet any of the targets he had set for himself and his government when they came into office. It wasn’t “news” for many of us. But it may have been for him. Somehow the nation is supposed to see this unmitigated failure (and indeed Britain’s serious economic distress) as signs of success in the far off future. Spring is coming, just like the Autumn statement at last came in Winter.
For this fete of magic the Chancellor relied on a technocrat’s forecasts.
Key were the forecasts of the Office for Budget Responsibility, based in part on the Chancellor’s budget, in part on economic performance data. The Chancellor spent considerable time reading these forecasts into the record. He put great emphasis on the independence of the Office from the Treasury. The Oracle of Delphi has spoken. It must be true.
The Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts that the government may now reach their targets between 2016 and 2018.
The Chancellor argued that was then, this is now. Not his fault. Changing economic situation. Also not his fault. Eurozone Crisis. Labour left a deeper hole than thought. And so on. Did I mention, not his fault?
Now the public should conclude the economy is nevertheless healing and the government is on the right track because in forecasting that the Chancellor would not meet his targets before 2016 - 2018 the Office for Budget Responsibility therefore forecast he would reach them ... sometime. See? Presto, this failure, too, is a success. Magic.
The Chancellor and the Prime Minister have a credibility problem.
The Chancellor and the Prime Minister set the targets. The Office for Budget Responsibility confirmed them. It was less than a year and a half ago. To date, every forecast the Office has made has proven too optimistic. Yes, the Office for Budget Responsibility is, at least on paper, independent from the Treasury. But the public remembers. It is all too well aware of government failures to meet its targets or deliver meaningful economic recovery.
All the government’s happy headline claims fly in the face of hard data. On the same day the Chancellor delivered the Autumn Statement the UK Statistics authority took the Chancellor and Prime Minister to task for repeated asserting incorrectly that NHS spending has risen. Undeterred, the Prime Minister nevertheless repeated a variation of this claim during Prime Minister’s questions just prior to the Chancellor’s statement. The Prime Minister and Chancellor also repeated claims for job growth that have been repeatedly debunked by Fact Checkers. And then there’s the small matter of the claim the economy grew 1% in the third quarter. This figure was itself an estimate based on some interesting maneuvers, not the hard actuals
This sort of thing has given this government a credibility problem. When it says black is white, the first thing people do is check for the colour.
More importantly, the public know what they experience in their own lives. They experience hardship. They experience a declining economy. They hear lots of blah blah statistics, promises and highly trumpeted “initiatives,” but they see no growth, no sign of recovery in the streets. They see targets shifting ever further into the distant future. Every report every few months revises forecasts downwards. There is no confidence that any of it will change.
Time for a new coach with a new playbook.
In the end the statistic that will matter most will be the vote count in the next general election. That vote will undoubtedly flow from the age old question, are you better off now than you were in 2010. We all know the answer.
In the days ahead we shall see how Press and Public react to the Autumn Statement. It took a day or two before the Spring budget unravelled. But initial reaction cannot make for terribly happy reading for the Chancellor and the Prime Minister.
Nor can poll results released just prior to the Statement. These indicate a further softening in overall Conservative voter share and the real possibility Conservatives face the decimation in the North of England they already faced in Scotland.
Some of the overall movement may be down to transient reaction to the Prime Minister's decision with regards to an Independent Press Complaints Commission. The Prime Minister publicly opted for an unaccountable Oligarchy organized by contracts within the cartel over Leveson's recommended democratically accountable body organized under the rule of law -- despite the fact only 21% of the public support that decision.
But the deterioration in the North is undoubtedly down to Britain's unequal economics.
One has to wonder how long the British public will put up with a government that repeatedly turns every crisis into a 100 year disaster for which it has no answer because all the answers run counter to its ideology. If it were football, even Arsenal by now would have replaced both coach and playbook.
Previous WV posts on this topic:
John C. Dyer, The British Anteaus in the grip of Heracles, November 5, 2012; Remember the 5th of November when Paedaphilia became the Headline, November 9, 2012