The T–Word

David Cameron - George Osborne - EU Referendum - Brexit - European Union - Democracy

We are fast running out of measured words to describe the character and behaviour of the prime minister and his chancellor during this EU referendum campaign

There is one word which thinking Brexiteers will do almost anything to avoid using to describe an opponent, however much they may want to: the T-word. While sanctimonious, virtue-signalling EU apologists are often quite happy to sneer at eurosceptics and make baseless charges of xenophobia and racism (accusations which can do grave real-world reputational damage in the modern world), Brexiteers are generally much more reticent to to deploy their own nuclear word.

Why? Because it sounds hysterical. To use the word in seriousness or in anger suggests that we have lost our minds, that we are deliberately exaggerating, that we and our arguments should not be taken seriously. And so we suppress it. We sit on the T-word, lips clamped shut even as Remainers paint an offensively false picture of Britain as a weak an ineffectual nation, and even go as far as suggesting that other European nations would be right to “punish” us for daring to reject their vision of a common European state.

But it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid levelling the T-word at some – though by no means all – people on the Remain side. In fact, some people, through their abhorrent and irresponsible behaviour, seem to be going out of their way to live up to the word, to goad us into saying it. And sadly, senior members of the current government – including David Cameron and George Osborne – can now be included in that number.

As the Remain camp continues to slide in the polls, we have already seen David Cameron pledge – for no good reason at all – to take Britain out of the single market as well as the European Union in the event of a Leave vote, promising to implement the most irresponsible form of Brexit as a pure act of spite rather than through any democratic imperative (the referendum asks whether we want to leave or remain in the EU, not the EEA). And he followed that up with a shameful attempt to scare Britain’s pensioners.

But that is nothing compared to George Osborne’s indefensible decision to attempt to scare the British people into voting Remain by releasing a mocked-up “emergency budget”, detailing a catalogue of arbitrary and vindictive actions a future Conservative government would implausibly take to punish the British people for defying his will and voting to Leave the EU.

The BBC reports:

In the latest of a series of government warnings about the consequences of a vote to leave, Mr Osborne shared a stage with his Labour predecessor, Lord Darling, setting out £30bn of “illustrative” tax rises and spending cuts, including a 2p rise in the basic rate of income tax and a 3p rise in the higher rate.

They also said spending on the police, transport and local government could take a 5% cut and ring-fenced NHS budget could be “slashed”, along with education, defence and policing.

[..] Mr Cameron said “nobody wants to have an emergency Budget, nobody wants to have cuts in public services, nobody wants to have tax increases,” but he said the economic “crisis” that would follow a vote to leave could not be ignored.

“We can avoid all of this by voting Remain next week,” he told MPs.

This is blackmail, pure and simple. This is the prime minister of the United Kingdom threatening to inflict arbitrary and deliberate damage on the country in retaliation if we vote against him in the EU referendum.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard is apoplectic:

George Osborne is disqualified from serving as Chancellor of the Exchequer for a single week longer.

Whatever his past contributions, his threat to push through draconian fiscal tightening in an emergency Brexit budget is economic madness, if not criminal incompetence.

Such action would leverage and compound the financial shock of Brexit, and would risk pushing the country into a depression. It violates the known tenets of macro-economics, whether you are Keynesian or not.

Alistair Darling, the former Labour Chancellor, has connived in this Gothic drama. He professes to be “much more worried now” than he was even during the white heat of the Lehman crisis and the collapse of the Western banking system in 2008.

So he should be. The emergency Budget that he endorses might well bring about disaster.  The policy response is the mirror image of what he himself did – wisely – during his own brief tenure through the Great Recession.

We all understand why George Osborne is toying with such pro-cyclical vandalism – or pretending to – for he is acting purely as as partisan for the Remain campaign. He has fatally mixed his roles. No head of the Treasury can behave in this fashion.

Absolutely. And the figures on which George Osborne has cooked up his Armageddon Budget are of course based on the most extreme and unlikely  Brexit scenarios, the Treasury having dropped the practical and popular interim EFTA/EEA option from its analysis because this Brexit method fails to bring about the kind of telegenic economic disaster the Remain campaign need for their propaganda.

But even if it were not in response to an incredibly unlikely and pessimistic set of economic assumptions, Osborne’s emergency budget would still be hugely irresponsible, as Evans-Pritchard points out:

This is a fiscal contraction of 1.7pc of GDP. It would hammer the economy just as it was reeling from the immediate trauma of a Brexit vote and the probable contagion effects across eurozone periphery, already visible in widening bond spreads.

It would come amid political chaos, before it was clear what the UK negotiating strategy is, or what the EU might do. It would be the worst possible moment to tighten.

The Treasury has already warned that the short-term shock of Brexit would slash output by 3.6pc, or 6pc with 820,000 job losses in its ‘severe’ scenario. The Chancellor now states he will reinforce this with austerity a l’outrance.

It is a formula for a self-feeding downward spiral, all too like the scorched-earth policies imposed on southern Europe during the debt crisis.

A funny time for George Osborne to finally discover fiscal conservatism, one might observe.

While many conservatives have rightly chafed at Osborne’s inability to get to grips with public spending, none but the flintiest ideologue would celebrate a significant, deliberate fiscal contraction at a time of political uncertainty and sensitivity. Osborne’s critics are right to castigate him for his profligacy with the International Development budget and unwillingness to tackle the real drivers of government spending (yes, including pensions), but fulfilling every single demand on the fiscal conservatives’ wish list in one spiteful go – and at the wrong moment – would be deliberate vandalism, pure and simple. And it shows that George Osborne is thinking politically at a time when Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer most needs to act like a statesman.

It is also astonishing that a chancellor who has been perfectly happy to falsely claim to be “paying down Britain’s debts” while actually still running a persistent budget deficit and adding greatly to the national debt should now propose to deal with any economic shock resulting from Brexit exclusively through fiscal tightening and not with increased short term borrowing. Again, this is only more evidence that Osborne has absolutely no core convictions or political philosophy of his own, save furthering his own power and thwarting his political enemies. Certainly the idea that the chancellor has somehow discovered strict fiscal conservatism now out of genuine principle is absolutely laughable.

But of course, this “emergency budget” is a political ruse, not a work of policy. For starters, in the event of a Leave vote, both the prime minister and his sorry chancellor of the exchequer will be sent packing from Downing Street back to their home constituencies almost immediately, to the sorrow of absolutely nobody. The Conservative Party will not tolerate their presence a moment longer. But more to the point, even George Osborne doesn’t believe his own apocalyptic predictions.

As Ambrose Evans-Pritchard points out:

There are quite enough dangers in Brexit already without adding more. What the Chancellor should do is the exact opposite: prepare an emergency stimulus of 1.7pc of GDP if need be,  targeted at critical infrastructure and strategic investment that pays for itself over time.

The money should be borrowed. As of today the Treasury can raise funds for five years at 0.66pc, for ten years at 1.12pc, and for thirty years at 1.94pc. These are lowest yields in our history, and they have been falling steeply over the last three weeks.  There is no sign yet that Brexit will trigger a ‘Gilts strike’ or a run on the British debt markets.

Mr Osborne could have taken advantage of these give-away rates to build up a war chest for any post-Brexit turmoil. He has not done so. Over the last three months the Government has raised just £36bn of its estimated needs of £131bn for this financial year. Either he is negligent, or he does not believe his own doom scenario.

[..] It takes a nuclear bomb or the Bubonic Plague to bankrupt a developed country that borrows in its own currency, has its own central bank, and has deep layers of wealth. Mr Osborne has not yet conjured either.

(Where I depart from Ambrose’s excellent response to George Osborne is his call for a national unity government drawn from all the parties in the event of a Leave vote, to guide us through the “turmoil”. To my mind, this could only make things worse, diluting the strategic direction of government by weighing it down with the statist, centralising baggage of the Green Party and SNP – though I concede that a unity government would help to dispel John McDonnell’s “Tory Brexit” line.)

So here we have a chancellor of the exchequer citing economic scenarios he does not believe (as evidenced by his lack of preparation for them) to produce a vengeful and counterproductive fictional budget in an attempt to frighten and bully the British people into abandoning their desire for democracy and self-government outside of the EU.

Brendan O’Neill’s response is best, condemning the Left’s complicity in this Cameron and Osborne-led campaign of intimidation:

Today in Kent, the establishment united, across party lines, to tell us that they will have no choice but to financially punish us if we vote to leave the EU. There will be severe budget cuts if you people vote for a Brexit, says Osborne. In short: we’ll hurt you, we’ll make your lives harder, we’ll inflict economic pain on you if you make the wrong political decision. How the left can line up behind this elite crusade that has now descended into blackmailing the poor and the plebs to support the EU “or else” is beyond me. The left has been dead for a long time, but its backing of the EU is the stake in its heart — after this it won’t even be able to pull off its zombie act.

So, back to that awkward T-word.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “the crime of betraying one’s country”, or “the action of betraying someone or something”. If you were, say, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, that “someone or something” might reasonably include the British national interest and the wishes of the people to be represented and served honestly and honourably by their government.

David Cameron and George Osborne wish Britain to remain part of an ever-more tightly integrating, expressly political union whose ultimate intention is to merge the countries of Europe into a common state.

David Cameron promised to extensively renegotiate the terms of our membership of the European Union but came back with less than nothing – a reaffirmation of the status quo, contracted not with the EU but with current heads of government, whose successors are in no way beholden to honour what little was promised to Britain.

David Cameron, George Osborne and their allies in the Remain campaign have used every trick in the book to threaten, deceive and coerce the British people into voting to stay in the EU. They have abused the bully pulpit of government, ignored Electoral Commission recommendations, produced and distributed taxpayer-funded propaganda, peddled in subliminal messaging techniques to influence people to vote Remain, misrepresented what the European Union really is and misrepresented their opponents.

And they did all this while supposedly serving their country – Cameron and Osborne as prime minister and chancellor respectively, and many of their Remain allies as fellow MPs, all of whom also swore the parliamentary oath.

I have put off using the T-word on this blog, thus far – mostly because while I am but a mere blogger, I do still want to be taken seriously and have my ideas and opinions listened to rather than rejected as the rantings of a blind partisan.

I will again put off using the T-word today, even though there is no longer any doubt in my mind that the word is justified when used to describe specific people and elements of their conduct during this EU referendum campaign.

But the reckless behaviour of the prime minister and his chancellor of the exchequer now contravenes their fundamental duty to the people, not to mention the basic standards of human decency; even the most ardent Remain supporter will surely look back with shame on what is being done to tilt this referendum in their favour.

On this present trajectory, it may not be long before whole swathes of the British public (justifiably) begin openly using the T-word as an accusation levelled at the two most powerful political figures in Britain, as well as many of those who might plausibly replace them.

And if we reach that acute point, we will face an unprecedented crisis in this country.


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