The spat between George Osborne and Fraser Nelson over whether or not the deficit has been halved is very much a Westminster bubble affair of little consequence to anyone outside SW1. Interested voters who even understand the difference between the deficit and the debt know that the government’s target to balance the budget in 2015 has been missed by £100 billion or so. As Jonathan Portes over at the Keynesian redoubt of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research gleefully points out, George Osborne has succeeded in implementing the Darling plan, which his own Financial Secretary to the Treasury condemned, for being endorsed only by The Guardian. The Chancellor deserves a degree of Fraser’s ridicule for only managing to execute the very Plan B that Osborne himself once ridiculed as ruinous.
The Tories are arguing, whilst simultaneously carrying the goalposts, that they have managed to halve the deficit in relative terms, relative to GDP. Professional economists seem to think that is a fair method of measuring the deficit. So how are they doing, in relative terms, on other key indicators?
The national debt relative to GDP is up, from 78.4% under Gordon Brown in 2010 to 90.6% last year. It is still rising, which is in the government’s own self-defined terms a big economic failure.
The Tories like to boast that employment is higher now than ever before, as indeed it was every year under the last Labour government, because the population grows. The unemployment rate is relative to the population. That is down impressively from 8% to 6% thanks to IDS, better still the youth unemployment and long term unemployment rates are also down. A trump card in the economic argument.
Per capita GDP was, as Danny Blanchflower and Ed Balls kept pointing out sombrely with smirks on their faces, falling. We were getting, on average, poorer. According to World Bank figures, the answer to Reagan’s famous question for voters “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” is a “yes”, just about. After inflation voters are on average 1.8% better off now than they were in 2010.*
Quantitative Easing on a scary scale has rigged other economic indicators like inflation and interest rates whilst pumping up asset prices. Great if you already owned financial assets or prime London property…
It seems a long-time since The Spectator was eulogising George Osborne as “the true Tory leader“, the enmity towards the Treasury from the Speccie is near constant nowadays. Guido notes that in a Tory leadership election it is almost certain that the magazine will back Boris, a former editor, against Osborne…
*Although for higher income earners – the income bracket usually well disposed towards voting Conservative – Osborne’s Guardianista pleasing fetishising of the Gini coefficient will mean they are probably worse off. Only a genius political strategist like Osborne would bash his core vote hardest.