At the End of the Day

Odd, is it not, how – be it Mario Dragula, George Osbollocks or Janet Yelper – we inhabit a Global economy in which everyone is intimately involved, and for which they are severally responsible – until such time as it’s getting in the way of our unstoppable return to growth? At that point, it switches roles to become some kind of alien virus…as a result of which, we are the entirely innocent victims of some ghastly infection.

Last week, Mario accepted a downgraded eurozone growth figure. This afternoon, George accepted a 17% cut in his forecast. This evening, Janet slashed her rate rise programme by 50%.

It just isn’t going to turn out well, is it? But the one advantage our Chancellor has over the other two is the one card to which all Brits somehow instinctively respond: Dunkirk.

Dunkirk was not about the Bulldog Spirit: it was about plucky British amateurism and top brass incompetence. No contemporary politician quite personifies both dimensions with the ease of Mr Osborne. His class is the one contemptuously dismissed by Napoleon as “a nation of shopkeepers….and in turn written off by Von Ribbentrop as “the only people surprised by winter every year”.

Today’s Budget was a Masterclass in pretending a rout is a tactical retreat, while stressing that all owners of Dunkirk boats would qualify for tax relief on any repair measures they may wish to take in time for the next humiliation.

To be fair, Draghi has the weapon of impenetrable Orwellian banking English, while Yellen can profit from the American way with euphemism – such as “mild optimism”, “lower policy path” and “stable wages”. But this simply cannot compete with Osborne’s capacity to mine the gigantic seam called ‘Muddle Through and Win’.

However, at some point that seam will be fully worked. Even in 1940, the research company Mass Observation had to tell the Government that putting up posters saying “Your determination will see us through” was something of a giveaway about who would be doing the work, and who would be making the gains.

Nobody can predict when that will be – and by then it might be too late to point it out – so I suppose the best any commentator with the majority’s wellbeing at heart can do is make some basic, empirical points:

  • It does seem odd to tax sugary drinks and in the same speech cut Corporation Tax to 17%. The rich will simply pass on the price to the poor and pay less tax to boot.
  • A £5000 increase in the amount of ISA savings the Under 40s can make is pointless if eroding wages and rising family costs make it impossible to save even a fraction of that.
  • Bringing in tax cuts for the main gainers (the top 20%) is iniquitous when a promise made to women 60 years ago has been broken, leaving 60,000 of them destitute.
  • Pretty much everything the Chancellor forecast in his previous four budgets proved to be mendacious or just plain wrong.
  • A huge amount of his forecasts this time depend on some dramatic uplifts during the 2019-20 fiscal. There is no indication at all in the numbers as to how or why that might happen.
  • The school day is to be lengthened. I see no sign as yet as to whether that idea has been floated to the teachers.

Very noticeable in the response to this morning’s Slogpost about the Budget was the indefference of the comment threads, and the abnormally low level of hits on a major news day. I suspect this reflects the public’s utter lack of expection about either the content of truth of anything the Chancellor has to say.