Where’s Osborne?

On holiday in Tuscany. His decision to fly by EasyJet last week, eschewing even priority boarding, strikes notable tones of austerity. This is in sharp contrast to his time spent on a Russian oligarch’s yacht in the summer of 2008...

On holiday in Tuscany. His decision to fly by EasyJet last week, eschewing even priority boarding, strikes notable tones of austerity. This is in sharp contrast to his time spent on a Russian oligarch’s yacht in the summer of 2008. However, just as the visit to Oleg Deripaska’s boat was part of an attempt to secure a £50,000 donation for the Conservatives, this year’s low-profile Italian trip seems to have political motives.

His absence, coinciding with Cameron’s, has propelled Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander into the spotlight during a week of difficult announcements for the government. Liberal Democrats are taking the rap for Tory decisions.

The eve of the holiday was marked by ‘titanic’ rows at a Cabinet away-day between the Chancellor and work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith. Duncan Smith was said to have twice threatened to resign over proposed cuts to his welfare budget.

Relations with defence secretary Liam Fox have also been strained of late, due to disagreements over the funding of Trident. Osborne’s holiday has been well timed to defuse these tensions.

Then came last week’s damning report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which seriously undermined the Chancellor’s earlier claims that the Budget was progressive. Clegg, thrust into the frontline, has been forced to backtrack on his previously voiced veneration of the IFS, and Osborne has so far managed to avoid having to defend his own budget.

Last Friday, Bloomberg gave Ed Balls a chance to respond to the Chancellor’s defence of his budget in a speech given to the news company ten days before. Balls stressed that deficit reduction will not increase consumer confidence, and the historical record of the 1930s and 1980s shows that fiscal retrenchment is likely to bring about economic stagnation.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Even in the days since the [Osborne] Bloomberg speech, we have seen increasing signs of economic slowdown in Britain, and UK consumer confidence, business optimism and mortgage starts are all down.

For all George Osborne’s talk of ‘deficit-deniers’ – where is the real denial in British politics at the moment?

We have a Chancellor who believes that he can slash public spending, raise VAT and cut benefits – he can take billions out of the economy and billions more out of people’s pockets, he can directly cut thousands of public sector jobs and private sector contracts, and none of this will have any impact on unemployment or growth.

Against all the evidence, both contemporary and historical, he argues the private sector will somehow rush to fill the void left by government and consumer spending, and become the driver of jobs and growth.”

Osborne’s response? Sweet nothing.

Next came Danny Alexander’s announcement, in an interview with the Observer, that taxes were unlikely to fall over the course of the Coalition government. The Chancellor’s absence appears to have been especially tactful here, as the news is expected to infuriate the Tory right. As David Blackburn on Spectator blog CoffeeHouse points out, this potentially raises difficult electoral problems for the government:

“The squeezed middle classes pose more of a problem for the coalition. Their benefits and tax credits will be cut, tax on their consumption is rising, tax on the gains of their long-term investments has risen and may rise again and there is to be no relief on their income tax.”

Several contentious cuts have also been announced. The replacement of NHS Direct with a lower-budget and lower-quality alternative comes dangerously close to impacting upon the supposedly ring-fenced health budget. Ed Balls’ playground-building scheme has also been named a victim of the cuts this week: 400 planned facilities are to be dropped.

Osborne’s name has actually re-entered the news today, with the leaked announcement that he is to slash Treasury staff numbers by 25% over the next four years. Once more, however, the Chancellor seems unavailable for comment.

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21 Responses to “Where’s Osborne?”

  1. Joe Jordan

    RT @LockPickerNet: Wheres Osborne? http://bit.ly/czfc2G via @leftfootfwd

  2. Shamik Das

    Where’s Osborne? http://bit.ly/czfc2G asks @leftfootfwd

  3. SoapboxLabourUK

    RT @leftfootfwd: Where’s Osborne? http://bit.ly/czfc2G

  4. Andrew Tindall

    RT @leftfootfwd: Where’s Osborne? http://bit.ly/czfc2G

  5. Shibley Rahman

    RT @shamikdas Where’s Osborne? http://bit.ly/czfc2G asks @leftfootfwd

  6. Tam Chandler

    RT @leftfootfwd: Where’s Osborne? http://bit.ly/czfc2G

  7. Dr. Shibley Rahman

    I thing the cuts are wrong in the form that they’re taking

    in that cutting public services -> worse public services -> less work for private sector -> combined effects are increased unemployment -> greater benefit expenditure -> slow growth -> possible stagnation/double dip/etc

    And yet the Economist apparently reported he is one of the most popular Chancellors ever, even beating Ken Clarke MP.

    The public are normally right however?

    Dr Shibley Rahman
    Primrose Hill

    @RecoveryShibley on Twitter

  8. Christine Berry

    RT @leftfootfwd: Where’s Osborne? http://bit.ly/czfc2G

  9. LockPickerNet

    Wheres Osborne? http://bit.ly/czfc2G via @leftfootfwd

  10. Joe Jordan

    RT @LockPickerNet: Wheres Osborne? http://bit.ly/czfc2G via @leftfootfwd

  11. LDK

    Oh good, so at least in Cameron and Clegg’s absence (Clegg being in Afghanistan today), Osborne isn’t in charge… guess it’s Hague then? At least he isn’t likely to accidentally sell off half the nation to fill the deficit 😉

  12. Peter Campbell

    RT @leftfootfwd: Where’s Osborne? http://bit.ly/czfc2G

  13. Evidence based.

    He is on holiday. Holidays usually denote the absence of work, the point of which being that when you come back you do your job better.

    I’m sure even you lot take a holiday.

  14. yorkierosie

    RT @leftfootfwd: Where’s Osborne? http://bit.ly/czfc2G

  15. Anon E Mouse

    Toby Thomas – Osborne didn’t respond to Ed Balls because he either thinks holidays should be just that or he isn’t interested in the man and his comments – he’s not even shadow chancellor.

    As for getting rid of NHS Direct, how do you know the replacement won’t be as good until it’s been running for a while?

    Dialling 111 is easier to remember than some 0845 number, is free to call and in section 4:4 of the Labour manifesto they too said they would implement exactly the same service.

    So why is it wrong to do it now or were Labour also wrong to propose it themselves? (And please don’t start saying they are different things blah blah)

    As for playgrounds why does central government have to pay for local amenities – why can’t local people make their own choices locally?

    This article shows that despite the rhetoric from Labour supporters, hypocrisy remains alive and well…

  16. Richard Blogger

    @”Evidence based”

    Huh? so the economic situation wasn’t so bad then? If the Chancellor can swan off in August leaving the office junior in charge, it must mean everything is fine, eh?

    Where is this commitment to the nation if Osborne can be on holiday and completely un-contactable? Cameron had an excuse, he had booked the Caesarian for his holiday so that he could combine his paternity leave and holiday. At least there is some logic in that.

  17. Richard Blogger

    @Anon E Mouse

    As yopu well know the Tory 111 service is not what Labour were planning. With NHS Direct currently 40% of the advisers are trained nurses (ie at least 3 years training) whereas with the current 111 service 4% of the advisers are trained nurses, the other staff have a 60 hour training course.

    Labour’s plan was to provide 111 as a non-emergency service in parallel to NHS Direct, and provide things like the ability to book an appointment with your GP. Lansley’s plan is to replace a medical helpline with this largely non-medical 111 service.

  18. Anon E Mouse

    Richard Blogger – Long time no hear fella – I’m just being mischievous as well you know.

    Not sure on your reply to “Evidence Based” regarding booking the caesarian though – I thought it was an emergency but in any event things do actually feel ok at the moment.

    I voted independent at the election and the Labour candidate won – go figure.

  19. sharonavraham

    RT @leftfootfwd: Where’s Osborne? http://bit.ly/czfc2G

  20. Evidence based.

    @Richard Blogger. Brown and Darling took holidays throughout the recession period- they were right to do so. By your logic- that the gravity of a situation determines eligability of holiday, since we are out of recession, Osborne is more deserving of one.

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