Osborne’s central objective, he would have you believe, is to cut the deficit. He has failed: the deficit he predicted would be £40bn this year turns out to be £100bn and, worse still, it is actually now rising because of the fall in the government’s income (tax receipts) brought about by his own policy of squeezing wages. His other key concern is holding down and reducing taxes. In this he’s succeeded: such reduction in the deficit as there has been is almost exclusively the result of cutting public expenditure and benefits, the only exception being the rise in VAT which hits the poor far harder than the rich. In Osborne’s parallel universe the State is the residual item: it has to make do with what the first two principles leave over. Indeed I would argue that the shrinkage of the State as a result of the first two strictures is not just an unfortunate side-effect, but the real latent objective of the whole exercise.
But the State isn’t just an imposition on the body politic for the levying of taxes. It’s an instrument for bringing into existence the vision of society that will inspire, enthuse and activate the members of that society. The proper way to conduct government is the reverse of the Osborne method. It should start with a trajectory of the vision to the desired income, including a strategic long-term programme of investment, and the merits of tax changes (including on whom they fall) against particular uses of public spending in pursuit of this objective would then have to be carefully weighed year after year.
It is truly remarkable, and alarming, that the consequences of Osborne’s latest mini-budget on the nature of the State, which can only be described as existential, were not even mentioned by him last Wednesday. Either that is the result of Olympian insouciance or a determination to foist on Britain a kind of society so extreme (1930s style) that it will never win electoral consent, therefore best to keep mum about it. So what would it look like? The NHS, which all the experts believe is heading for a slow-motion car-crash, will collapse in its present form by 2020. Further reductions in schools expenditure will short-change prospects for this and future young generations. The welfare system will descend into the means-tested discretionary poor relief of the Victorian era. Access to justice via legal aid will all but disappear, leaving enhanced and broadly unaccountable power in the hands of employers, landlords and the moneyed classes. Trashing the environment will proceed apace, so long as it yields big profits (share oil and gas to the fore).
This is fundamentally what the next election should be about.