Exhausted-looking British Chancellor hopes for better times
British taxpayers’ cash will be used to ensure site of the Battle of Waterloo is restored
George Osborne will spend British taxpayers’ cash to ensure that the long-neglected, sometimes defaced site of the Battle of Waterloo south of Brussels is restored in time for the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s defeat.
In the House of Commons yesterday, Osborne could not resist his little joke at Labour’s expense, saying that 2015 would “celebrate a great victory of coalition forces over a discredited former regime that had impoverished millions”.
The joke, though, can be turned back on him, since in William Thackeray’s novel, Vanity Fair one George Osborne, who had been vain, selfish and a careless spender, oblivious of his duties to others, dies in that same battle.
The real Osborne, however, has tried not to be dissolute, even if some of the exhausted-looking chancellor of the exchequer’s lines yesterday – “back from the brink of bankruptcy”; “from rescue to recovery” – felt threadbare to many of his Commons audience.
Osborne yesterday announced spending plans for 2015/16, even though the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition will have come to an end just weeks after the period covered by the spending review begins.
Spending by 2018 will be down by 2.3 per cent in real terms on 2010, though the top-line figure does not accurately reflect the pain being felt below – some government departments’ budgets will have fallen by a third in that time.
He had to lay down some budget, otherwise confusion would reign in Whitehall; but the real purpose of the exercise is to catch out Labour – forcing it to clarify its spending plans if it were to win the next election, or to make it look foolish for refusing to do so.
For now, Osborne, extraordinarily, is still winning this debate, with voters believing that he and David Cameron (however much they dislike them) still have greater credibility on the economy than is enjoyed by Labour.
So far, Labour has declared that it will not reverse cuts made by the coalition, despite having opposed them at every turn for the past three years, while it still sends out mixed messages over whether it would spend significantly more in other areas.
The “extra spending” argument can be made, but, unfortunately for Labour, it is not being made well enough since the Conservatives’ mockery that Labour is saying “that it will borrow more to borrow less” is still being heeded by too many voters for Ed Miliband’s liking.
Despite his numerous talents, the cause of much of Labour’s woes is Ed Balls, who has still not shrugged off the reputational damage suffered by being so close to Gordon Brown. Justified, or not, that image is hindering Labour’s reinvention.