Today’s Guardian has this story about inconsistencies in George Osborne’s claimed savings from raising the male pension age:
The NIESR said Osborne’s team had made a mistake in their calculations, misreading a paper written by the thinktank earlier this year. Osborne aides originally based their calculations on a NIESR document in the House of Commons library. After his speech the thinktank sought clarification of his assumptions. It has recalculated the figures and will present them at a conference on Monday.
The NIESR aren’t, of course, the first people to wonder whether everything about Osborne’s plans really adds up; the Lib Dems’ very own Work and Pensions guru spotted this one a few days ago, commenting:
The only other explanation is that this is a figure for a whole Parliament – ie an annual saving times 5. Presumably in the 2016 to 2020 Parliament you could save over £10 billion from this measure, and then you are not far off the Tory figure. But the impression they seem to want to give is that this is a huge and specific cut, when, in the context of a Government deficit this year forecast to be in excess of £175 billion, £2 billion saving on pensions starts to look a lot more modest. Surely they can’t be trying to mislead us??
Why yes, Steve, they might just be. Not quite the fiddle you guessed, instead they are quoting the figures to us not in today’s money, but in 2020 money:
A spokesman for Osborne said the £13bn savings included inflationary rises between 2009 and 2020.
This, despite NIESR’s judgment that “There is no way of knowing how much it will save except in today’s money,” adding that (in today’s money) “the package that the Conservatives are proposing … will only raise £4bn [in 2016]”. The savings the Tories are talking about will only really fill out in about 2023. Not really going to help much with the deficit in the meantime, is it?
As our own Lord Oakshott comments in the Guardian’s piece: “This saga of incompetence and dishonesty shoots to pieces his claims to be a responsible chancellor.” Coming hot on the heels of a conference where the Tories main aim seemed to be to polish up George Osborne’s reputation and make him look chancellor-like, this is a bit of a problem for George. After all, it doesn’t look great for the NIESR to be holding a conference on Monday at which they essentially mark George’s work, and give him a “must try harder”.
Like Matthew Oakshott said at conference, Vince is a professional, George is an amateur. Not only do we realise it, not only do most people in business and finance realise it, but the Tories know it. Deep down. I watched the conference coverage of Tory conference on BBC Parliament. Ignoring, for a moment, the rather sullen response he got to some of his speech, lets talk instead about how many veiled criticisms were voiced from both the floor and the stage about Osborne’s lack of experience. On the afternoon when Ken Clarke spoke, the session which he lead was full of comments to the effect that people without any business experience shouldn’t be running our economy, to warm applause from the floor. All very well when you’re pointing up some of the experience of the Tory party’s business team, many of them parachuted straight from industry into the Lords, but it rather falls down when you remember that Boy George has done almost nothing in the world of business either.
Wikipedia offers us this summary of George Osborne’s experience before going into politics:
Osborne’s first job was to provide data entry services to the National Health Service to record the names of people who had died in London. He also briefly worked for Selfridges. He originally intended to pursue a career as a journalist, but, after missing out on a position at a national newspaper, was informed of a vacant job at the Conservative Central Office.
Brilliant. OK, so that’s not necessarily a sympathetically written description. But even the Tories’ own website can only manage this:
After a short spell as a freelance journalist, George joined the Conservative Research Department in 1994 and has since dedicated himself wholly to politics.
It doesn’t exactly suggest the kind of background experience that was repeatedly called for at Tory Conference, does it? I might as well throw in, for good measure, a quick reminder: Vince Cable was Chief Economist for Shell. Just mentioning.
The Tories hoped, following a decent conference turn from George, that these waverings might be dying away. George has come of age, they said. But it’s not just this, we’ve also recently had George’s imaginary secret documents. It’s quite clear that George still hasn’t learned to read those details properly. Many more revelations like these, and I’m not convinced that he’s quite so secure in his position as people assume.
And if he stays, and the Tories are serious about installing him as Chancellor, then we all ought to be very worried.