Brian Monteith: Balls burst by crafty Osborne

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I never thought I’d actually say this, but George Osborne has delivered a good speech. There, it’s done, I’m already reaching for my bottle of Windhoek Lager to help steady my nerves.

But you have to hand it to him, he delivered his autumn statement masterfully, especially compared with his shadow, the abominable Ed Balls, who, if the ground had opened up in front of him, would have been given a big shove into hell by Ed Miliband sitting next to him.

I write this because I have, over the last few years, been a stern critic of Osborne, who has too often reminded me of a young, flippant and pimpled white-socked Royal Bank clerk with no life experience that refused me a mortgage (I changed to the Bank of Scotland and they have been making a lot of money out of me ever since).

I still disagree with a great deal of what Osborne passes off as economic policy, but the point here is that after a disastrous budget in the spring that seriously damaged his standing – and his political future – the knives were out for him on the occasion of his autumn statement, which is primarily about public finances.

There were vultures circling above Westminster, alligators in the Thames and wolves sniffing the air – and those were just his colleagues that want his job. The media was writing him off, saying he would have had a sleepless night beforehand, while the opposition was rubbing its hands with the expectation of another humiliation for the cherub-like 
chancellor.

Not only was he confident and precise but, for once, he used his statistics carefully and craftily.

The debate that Labour wants to have about the economy is that the beastly Tories are unfair, primarily because they are out of touch toffs who went to public schools and don’t understand us oiks.

It rather rewrites history, given that the most successful Fettesian ever – Anthony Blair – had a more privileged upbringing than the Tory John Major whom he defeated, that son of a circus trapeze actor who went to the local state school. It also conveniently ignores the role of Labour’s last chancellor who went to that well-known local comprehensive in Musselburgh called . . . Loretto.

It is all hogwash of course, a distraction aimed at taking the public’s eye off the ball by playing to base prejudices. So much for One Nation politics. Schools don’t really matter, it’s what people make of their opportunities that is important.

The unfairness, Labour says, is because the rich are not paying enough – and that the Tory claim that “we are all in this together” is a lie and that we should tax the rich more and more.

Osborne impressively burst Ed Balls’ balloon by revealing the 
independently produced figures that showed Labour’s high tax rates on the richest had in fact led to a FALL in revenue of some £7 billion, when Labour would have you believe increasing such taxes would bring greater revenue and solve all our 
problems.

Let me be as straight as possible on this issue. There is no point in taxing the rich more if it leads to less income – unless it is all about being seen to punish the rich for the pure sadistic sake of it. And Balls wishes to be taken seriously?

The way to get more money out of the richest in our society is to make it attractive for them to locate in Britain and work harder. The richest five percent of earners already pay 45 per cent of income tax revenues.

The other attack from Labour that fell flat was to attack cuts in the increases in benefits. Again we have to look at the independent statistics that Osborne torpedoed Balls with – that, since 2007 when the recession began to emerge, those in work have seen their earnings rise by 20 per cent in cash terms while those in benefits have enjoyed an increase of 24 per cent.

The fact is that those going to work are bearing the greater burden than those not. Welfare is meant to be an insurance policy against hard times rather than an entitlement to improvement against those that fund the 
benefits. If we are to have an affordable welfare state, we need to recalibrate the balance between those who pay and those who receive – therefore limiting increases to only one per cent is uncomfortable but also unarguable when others are seeing their earnings fall.

What also has to be seen is that this economic debate takes place in the context of a coalition government that is trying to deliver austerity – so that it can get public spending under control. This line – promulgated by all three major parties – is in fact a lie.

The Tories and Lib Dems say that the level of austerity is just about right and we can’t borrow any more, while Labour says it’s too cruel and we need to borrow more.

But the figures show government spending is actually increasing, not by mistake but according to plan, while the shortfall in tax revenues means more is actually being borrowed – just as Labour suggests. Yet Labour still says we are still not borrowing enough.

No wonder no-one trusts politicians. Where’s my bottle of Windhoek?