Liam Byrne: It is time to get serious, Mr Osborne

Share
Related Topics

George Osborne admits that he devotes more time to politics than to economics, and on Wednesday we saw the proof.

In a serious debate on the pre-Budget report, he fired cheap shots when what was needed was a big judgement call. Alistair Darling set out the most detailed plan of any G7 country for halving the deficit over four years. He acted to secure the economic recovery and go for growth – because faster growth will cut the costs of unemployment. He set out plans which will rebuild the public finances fairly – because we need to get the timing right, not choke off the recovery by cutting too soon.

And, true to our Labour values, he promised to protect our schools, health, police and Sure Start – while making services smarter, more efficient and more responsive. His message was clear: we will tighten our belts, as families are doing. It will not be painless, but it will not be reckless.

In reply, all Osborne could offer was political knockabout – long on jibes but desperately short on serious policy. The contrast, not just in demeanour, but in sheer weight of policy, was striking.

Now that we have set out our plans, the time has come for Osborne to do the same. The broad contours of the Tory approach are becoming clearer. We know that by cutting support for the economy now, he risks a decade of austerity and low growth. We know that he favours unfunded tax cuts to the wealthiest. We know that by opposing our guarantees on public services, such as being certain of seeing a specialist within two weeks of your GP suspecting cancer, he's content to reduce public services to a gamble.

But there are more questions he has to answer. The key question in British political economy is this: Osborne says that he would close the deficit faster, but halving the deficit just a year faster than us would mean cutting £26bn from public services or increasing VAT to 23 per cent. Which will he choose?

On spending, Osborne has also failed in the first task of a shadow Chancellor – controlling his Shadow Cabinet colleagues, who have indulged themselves in the Tory habit of trying to be all things to all people, making spending pledges as they did so. The cost of the resulting list? Tens of billions of pounds.

Meanwhile, his plans to save money unravel by the day. His party claims that its plans to curb spending – including scrapping ID cards and the NHS IT scheme, bringing forward retirement age and capping public-sector pensions – would save up to £45bn. In fact, our analysis suggests they'd save less than 5 per cent of that. What else will he cut – or which taxes will he increase – to make up that gap?

At their party conference, the Tories claimed they could make £7bn in savings, including £3bn a year by the end of the Parliament, by cutting Whitehall and quango costs by a third. But our "Smarter Government" document, published just before the pre-Budget report, saves around that amount from central government alone – and in fact much more in the wider public sector. How can he go further than that?

Treasury figures, disclosed to Parliament, show that his claim to save £400m from cutting Child Tax Credits for households on more than £50,000 a year misses the mark by a country mile, saving just £45m a year. They reveal that to save £400m means cutting benefits from people earning just £16,000. Will he cut those benefits or will he admit he got it wrong?

We live in serious times, and people want serious answers from their politicians. This week, Alistair Darling delivered them. As a pretender to the same historic office, the time has come for George Osborne to set aside the lightly proffered laurel of the Parliamentary sketchwriter. He must answer the tough questions he has so far ducked. It's time for him to step up.

Liam Byrne is Chief Secretary to the Treasury

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Gold Ferrari sits outside Chanel on Sloane Street  

Sunday Times Rich List: We are no longer in thrall to very rich people

Terence Blacker
David Cameron was openly emotional at the prospect of Scotland leaving the union before the referendum  

Remember when David Cameron almost cried over Scotland because he loved it so much?

Matthew Norman
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence