Magazine article The Spectator

Leading Article: Osborne's Ambition Deficit

Magazine article The Spectator

Leading Article: Osborne's Ambition Deficit

Article excerpt

When George Osborne first became Chancellor, he asked to be judged on his ability to reduce the deficit. He does not make that request any more. This year's deficit is almost three times higher than the £37 billion he originally planned, but he understandably glossed over this point when delivering his Autumn Statement. He has other interests now: pension reform, building motorways, or spending more on GPs. The mission to balance the books has been delayed until the end of the decade -- or, perhaps, the start of the next.

He said this week that his extra spending was made possible by 'the hard decisions that we have taken'. This can only mean the hard decision to abandon his deficit target and give himself eight long years to reduce state spending by a grand total of 4 per cent. The global crash in interest rates has made this lax timetable possible -- Osborne can now borrow at just 2 per cent, less than half the rate he expected. The market is hawking cheap loans around the continent, and the Chancellor has succumbed.

But he had other successes to proclaim this week. The most striking is job creation, which is stronger than even HM Treasury seems able to comprehend. There are a record 30.8 million now in work, half a million more than Osborne predicted last year. Almost nine out of ten new jobs are full-time. The Chancellor was right to boast about a thousand jobs being created for every day the government has been in office. Britain's record on this front is the envy of Europe -- which is a bit of a problem, given how many Europeans are arriving to avail themselves of work, which is painfully absent in their own countries. So if the Home Secretary's immigration target lies in tatters, this is why -- the French, Portuguese and Italians coming here to help the British recovery.

The flipside of this, of course, is that wages are still far lower than before the crash. Workers are cheaper, which is why companies can afford to hire more of them. The Chancellor glossed over this point in Parliament, which is unwise of him. It's not as if people facing yet another year of pay freeze will not notice. The Conservatives ought to recognise that their job-creation miracle is partly explained by an unwelcome trend of low wages.

The answer to this is a sound economic recovery that conservative principles ought to bring. But the fact remains: you need to go back to the 1860s to find a period when the average British wage had been knocked back so badly. No matter what statistics say, for the average worker this has been a lost decade.

But for British businesses, these are fairly good times -- thanks to his corporation tax cuts. …

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