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

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

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London