By Richard Elliott
The last few days we have seen George Osborne’s announcement of new spending reviews, which highlight a further £11.5bn in projected spending cuts for the year 2015-16. I find this remarkable, considering that the plan outlines a commitment to avoid any further reductions to military spending as a means of tackling the deficit (something that would be particularly haphazard in light of the current geopolitical climate) as well as announcing the finalisation of several huge infrastructural development projects, including schemes for roads, rail, and energy, which will no doubt provide some aide in the steep and rugged ascent back to economic stability. I contend that this may just be one of the very few recent causes of celebration in these austere political times, and I think I’ve thought of something fitting for it. The unofficial Parliamentary title of ‘Gorgeous George’ is up for grabs, the previous holder of it long sullied and undeserving of it (those bright blue eyes no doubt a clever ruse, hiding the marriage of nothingness and evil in the interior of the head behind them); perhaps Osborne could be awarded the mantle?
The root derivative of the word ‘gorgeous’ does not necessarily connote good looks. Rather, it expresses a sense of both elegance and showiness. I think it fair to say that Osborne’s announcements both yesterday in the House of Commons and his appearances over the weekend demonstrate both of these attributes. Firstly, elegance has been shown by the way in which Osborne has been careful to toe the line between making headway on tackling the deficit and keeping public opinion high in regards to something which is almost guaranteed to affect morale, namely this new bout of austerity measures. Secondly, Osborne has demonstrated showiness by keeping a strong public image in looking tough towards tackling austerity, without upsetting the public at large.
This suggestion of congratulations sits in a somewhat antithetical position to that put forward by Ross Clark in his most recent piece for The Spectator, where he writes very eloquently that Osborne is not fully embracing the strict austerity measures he himself proposed whilst still embracing the portrayal of his “axeman image.” While many Tories and libertarians will see this as Osborne more resembling a “bodger blundering with a blunt chisel” than truly taking an axe to austerity (and I am inclined to agree with the ethos of this criticism from my own perch), public opinion does not carry the day that this is the correct medicine for society. The fact remains that Osborne cannot enjoy the licentiousness granted to the previous Labour governments, and in light of the Blair years where public spending reached Bacchanalian proportions, the blunt chisel that Osborne is waving to many bears an axe-like resemblance. Since Osborne is still answerable to the public, it is clear that there is a thin line for him to tread between not tackling the deficit in real terms at all and causing a real public upset. So far, this thin line has been carefully trodden by Osborne. In the current circumstances, we as the disenchanted masses should not make the best the enemy of the good.
Many Labour supporters, and indeed some disenchanted Tories, doubt the gusto of Osborne, with some making the comparison with his opposite, Ed Balls. There is an often used argument by this crowd that because Balls graduated with a 1st in the PPE course at Oxford, whilst Osborne only managed a 2:1 in Modern History, Balls would be a better bet in navigating Britain’s economy. I think this claim rests on two things: 1) that Osborne has read absolutely nothing of substance since his graduation ceremony in 1992, and 2) that Ed Balls possesses some secret economic knowledge that no other economist on Earth is aware of. (In light of the fact that Labour have recently had to concede that they wouldn’t be able to do much more than what Osborne is currently doing, this second suggestion probably isn’t true).
Osborne has also demonstrated recently that he can get tough when it is necessary – the failure to hit his austerity targets, and on his terms, by those who Andrew Sparrow of the Guardian has called his “recalcitrant colleagues” [The Guardian, 24th June 2013, p. 4] across government departments will lead to the so-called “star-chamber” grilling by the Treasury. This shows that that there is an Iron Fist in the Exchequer which can be called upon when needs be. Osborne is also not afraid to make concessions to appease the Lib Dems and Labour on small matters of fairness, such as the universal fuel allowance and free bus passes to wealthy pensioners. This exemplifies a principled character working for the best interests of both the public and the economy.
It is obvious that while Osborne is no dream chancellor, he is certainly the best candidate we have in the face of austerity. However, a word of caution is needed before my somewhat glowing recommendation of the Chancellor’s recent decisions lets all reins loosen. None of this absolves either Osborne himself in his commitment to continue lowering the deficit, nor the press in their responsibility to highlight the often trivial criticisms against his plans. But, for once, I think a small admission to Osborne’s sincerity and perhaps even mild congratulations (I know it’s hard) are in order. Hip, hip, hooray for ‘Gorgeous George’, redux.