Simon English: Flexibility is key, especially if you are the Chancellor

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The Independent Online

Politicians have long got it into their heads that the public most admire politicians of total conviction. U-turns are for wimps. Regrets are for fools. Saying "I'm not sure, what do you think?" is deemed professional suicide, even if that's what good professionals in other spheres say 20 times a day.

If there's one senior politician who should strive to fight the stridency tendency it is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He or she should try to leave as much wiggle room as possible to account for events outside their control (that would be most of them). Instead we have had George Osborne blaring for years that cuts, austerity, misery now, are the only way forward.

Even if he was right – the evidence is not in his favour lately – it is hard to see why it was beneficial for him to be so forthright; to insist that there was only one path to economic redemption. He could have pursued his cutbacks scheme with vigour – he was no longer running for election – while adopting a much more conciliatory approach in public. To the bond markets and ratings agencies whose love he so desires, his actions would have been plain enough. But to everyone else, he could have left the idea that there may be alternatives, that he was an open fellow who changed his mind when the facts did. He could have indicated that he appreciated the triple A rating given to UK government debt, but hinted that since others have survived perfectly well without this award, Britain was also strong enough to do so should it come to that. I want to borrow less, he could have said, but that we are able to borrow so cheaply shows the complete faith markets have in this resilient nation. If it turns out we borrow more from month to month, well, be calm.

Now that the country is back into recession – double dips are extremely rare, they mean either that we are at war or that the man in charge has made a hash of it – Mr Osborne desperately needs that room to wiggle that he surrendered for so little gain.

Unfortunately it is near impossible for him to now say that economic pump-priming, a burst of government spending, might be just the job without losing his own.

The nation may have to limp on without him.