In the last week Osborne has staked out three positions which show the character of the man – duplicitous, machiavellian, dishonest. First he claimed that he had turned the £1.7bn EU budget bill into a triumph by factoring in Britain’s budget rebates in Europe which halved the amount due. This canard unravelled almost as soon as Osborne uttered it. Several other ministers at the EU meeting insisted that no-one, including Osborne, had actually contested the £1.7bn charge and that no discount had been awarded. What actually happened is that Osborne rushed out of the meeting, immediately made his statement to the press (which the BBC sycophantically, but wrongly, repeated almost verbatim) , and then left to return to the UK without taking any questions. The truth is that Britain’s automatic rebate on gross contributions to the EU budget, which have operated since 1980, would have been granted anyway and had nothing to do with Osborne’s arguments – or rather non-arguments since he never raised any objections anyway. The whole exercise was simply an Osborne ploy to pretend that he had fought and thwarted the dire plans of the EU.
Second, he made a disingenuous announcement that he was improving tax transparency by letting taxpayers at different income levels know what the tax they paid was spent on. It looked like an innocent attempt to extend useful and relevant information to the public. He would issue an ‘annual tax statement’ to every household showing where their taxes went. Thus someone earning £30,000 a year will be told that £1,663 goes on ‘welfare’ and £892 on ‘health’, i.e. nearly twice as much on ‘scroungers’ as on health. What Osborne does not say is that welfare lumps together expenditures of a wholly different kind. No less than 46% of it goes on pensions which pensioners have earned by paying national insurance contributions throughout their working lives. Only 3% goes to the unemployed. Osborne’s vaunted ‘transparency’ is in reality a cynical pre-election ploy to win support for further cuts and to turn voters against Labour.
Third, he reiterated yet again the need for still deeper cuts to pay down the deficit. What he didn’t say is that as a result of the very deep cuts he’s already made the deficit this year is not falling at all, but actually going up because falling household incomes have meant that the government’s tax take is now being eroded. What he also didn’t say is that if the rationale for austerity is to pay down the deficit, there’s no point in continuing with austerity if it’s now causing the deficit to go up.
Never take anything Osborne says at face value.