Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Comprehensive Spending Review

The Chancellor's arguments and announcements are here. Peter Hoskin has the background to our current plight, along with a collection of useful graphs. A series of short "highlights" clips is George Osborne CSR 2010 highlights; though I intend to post the whole thing once it is available.

Following is Sky's Joey Jones, providing some analysis.

Former postman, now Shadow Chancellor Alan Johnson is trying to respond to George Osborne's hour-long statement as I write, but isn't being very good, to be honest. He knows, and we know, that he has no idea about how the public finances work or why.

If we look back at previous and current years' budgets and CSR announcements and debates, they were generally of a far better class than Johnson's struggling script-reading (i.e. probably written in the main, if not entirely, by advisers), though he is at least using a few original humorous devices.

Johnson's hesitant and repetitive speaking detracts significantly from his credibility, though at least he is ploughing on regardless, now admitting that he indulges in "Punch and Judy politics". I can't perceive a coherent message, as he seems to be meandering quite a lot without making any solid points; and I think that anyone watching this will reach the same conclusion.

Johnson is well out of his depth, and he knows it, as do we. He has no idea about the difference between fiscal and structural deficits, for one thing. He is floundering with the subject, diverting instead onto topics such as Sure Start, sticking to core Labour social engineering projects, because he does not understand the real issues facing the country.

It's bordering on being embarrassing; and the faces of the opposition front bench reflect their obvious discomfort at what is going on, Johnson completely wasting this major opportunity to regain at least an element of credibility. Osborne's reply was vastly superior, and batted away Johnson's three questions very easily. He is easily one of the best MPs/Ministers I have ever encountered at answering questions, from all sides.

Public sector job cuts of 490,000 are expected over the life of this Parliament. Much of this will be achieved by not replacing those who retire or resign (there is a high turnover in the public sector so is a feasible methodology). Interestingly this is just a tenth of their number, i.e. there are around five million public sector employees. Nearly half as many again are also paid from public money via outsourcing, PFI projects and other "external" government-sponsored projects. That is one of the really serious pair of statistics, along with the £120 million we are paying every day in repayment of the nation's debt.

Unsurprisingly, Labour MPs are trying to claim that these are being "taken out of the economy", usually citing the "income tax" they contribute. Of course, it is nothing of the sort: that "tax" is only a book transfer of funds from one part of the public purse to another compartment. The nett salaries will be a saving.

Labour are, as always, wrong, and often deliberately misleading. Sometimes they (probably inadvertently) admit to the truth, especially newcomers. Even the seasoned Michael Meacher admitted, during the debate, admitted that the top earners "saw their wealth quadrupled during the past decade". It is interesting that this was entirely (apart from the last few months) on Labour's watch as the government of that period.

This also follows a Prime Minister's Questions session this lunch-time in which David Cameron wiped the floor with Ed Miliband. Overall, this really hasn't been Labour's best day, by a long chalk!

Another issue that has arisen is that, both at PMQs and in the Spending Review debate, there were more Scottish Labour questioners than all the other Labour MPs involved in these debates put together. The "West Lothian question" raises its head whenever this kind of thing happens.

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