Has Laws landed Osborne in it

David Laws was careful with his words on Newsnight about the decisions of previous governments. His claims appear to undermine his boss' less guarded turns of phrase.

On Newsnight yesterday, new Chief Secretary to the Treasury David Laws was careful with his words about the decisions of previous governments. His claims appear to undermine his boss’ less guarded description yesterday that, “frankly what previous Chancellors have done is move [the fiscal and growth forecasts] around a bit to try and fit their Budget measures” or just two days before the general election that, “The [Budget] Red Book is largely a work of fiction.”

Interviewed by Jeremy Paxman about the decisions of the previous government and whether there was evidence that Ministers over-ruled civil servants, David Laws was careful with his words:

“LAWS: What we don’t know yet and we probably never will unless the information is published in 30 years time is whether the Chancellor of the Excheuqer or even the Prime Minister, perhaps, over-ruled officials in the Deparment. And I’m not making that claim because I haven’t got evidence for it.”

Watch it:

As Chris Giles pointed out yesterday on the FT’s Money Supply blog:

“The ability of a chancellor to massage the figures is limited. To hear George Osborne, it sounds as if Labour chancellors had complete freedom to give absurd economic forecasts. There must have been completely useless opposition politicians, media and independent experts unable to hold these rogues in check. As Mr Osborne knows, he and the rest of us were significant constraints on Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. When their forecasts appeared to be a work of fiction, everyone said so and their reputation was damaged. This reputational constraint is stronger now with the OBR, but it is simply false to suggest it did not exist in the past.”

Paul Waugh gathered more details yesterday on the precise process. But as a veteran of numerous Budgets tells me:

“you get the best advice you can but in the end someone has to decide and the buck stops with the elected person since the implications of the decisions are very important. But the decisions are very constrained indeed and I never saw anyone going far away from the advice offered. When [New head of the OBR, Sir Alan] Budd comes out with his growth year forecasts for growth why on earth do we think they will be better than any one else’s guess?”

What other information has led Chancellor Osborne to conclude that the previous Government was effectively fiddling the figures? And why has he not shared this with Chief Secretary Laws?

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