Worse than useless
Ben Kelly of The Sceptic Isle makes a devastating case for George Osborne’s immediate dismissal from the Treasury:
During the campaign Osborne forgot his responsibilities as Chancellor and showed himself willing to damage the economy by deliberately fomenting uncertainty and prophesising catastrophe. This has aggravated the economic fallout in the aftermath. He wasted £9million of taxpayer’s money on pro-EU leaflets and converted the Treasury into a partisan propaganda machine. He pressed public officials to publish dodgy dossiers predicting economic doom if we left the EU. This can only have increased the cynicism that the public feel towards politicians and damaged the reputation of the Treasury.
For the entire first weekend after the referendum, with the markets panicking, George Osborne apparently went into hiding. We needed him to offer reassurance and some indication that the Treasury was prepared. When Osborne finally appeared he made it “very clear” that the country would be poorer following the people’s decision to leave the EU. In an interview with Nick Robinson on the Today programme, he repeated his pre-referendum threat of a tax increases and spending cuts. Instead of offering reassurance he is making the situation worse and rather than revealing contingency plans he has petulantly insisted that “it was not the responsibility of those who wanted to remain in the EU to explain what plan we would follow if we voted to quit the EU.” This is the second most powerful man in our government abdicating responsibility.
With that, it became abundantly clear that he could no longer perform his role as Chancellor and was incapable of restoring economic confidence. With this man in charge project fear will be a self-fulfilling prophesy.
We now know that Wolfgang Schäuble issued his warning that we couldn’t participate in the Single Market if we left the EU at the behest of George Osborne. I have no doubt that in time we will find out that the Chancellor spent the months before the referendum making many calls and pulling in favours in order to boost his fear mongering campaign. Just think about that! A British Chancellor appealing for authoritative institutions and economists to warn that the British economy was weak and risked collapse outside the EU. Has there ever been a Chancellor so aggressive in his desire to run his own country down?
Remainers now point to our current economic turmoil as proof that they were right all along, but it was always inevitable that a political decision of this magnitude, with such huge potential for change, was going to cause economic uncertainty and short term pain. Now we need people in government to restore confidence and map out the future. The Chancellor who has been actively sabotaging our economy is the wrong man for the job. There should be no place for him in government.
Osborne took a huge gamble with a scorched Earth policy, he lost; and we are now suffering the consequences. Now he must go. It is too late to do the honourable thing now, but he can at least finally do the right thing and signal his intent to leave office when the next Conservative leader is elected.
I am very sympathetic to Kelly’s argument. It would be one thing if George Osborne had graciously accepted the result of the referendum and then immediately and publicly got to work ensuring that Britain’s sails were perfectly trimmed as we sailed into the short-term storm of post-Brexit hysteria. It would definitely have been positive if Osborne had pulled a secret Brexit plan from his back pocket and set the Treasury to implementing it.
But Osborne did none of these things. The submarine chancellor did as he always does – disappear for days on end while others take the flak, appearing before television cameras only when it absolutely cannot be avoided (such as at Treasury Questions in Parliament).
And while it was inevitable that there would be market turbulence following geopolitical news of the magnitude of Brexit, it is hard to deny that Osborne almost certainly exacerbated this fallout – the steepness of the fall in the pound, the stock market fluctuations, the delayed investment decisions by firms – by endlessly catastrophising Brexit in his failed bid to win the referendum for the Remain side. Of course this was a difficult line for a Remain-supporting chancellor to take, wanting to make his case but careful not to “talk down Britain” at any point. A true statesman would have successfully trodden this fine line. George Osborne stepped way over it.
But most damning of all is the way that Osborne helped to furtively arrange for senior foreign voices – politicians, NGO heads and others – to make their own interventions in our national EU referendum debate, actively putting words in their mouths. In many cases these words turned out to be unduly harsh and threatening words, representing the chancellor’s own bluster more than the sincere and considered opinion of the speaker concerned – which is why we are now seeing partial recantations from the likes of Wolfgang Schäuble.
As the EU referendum campaign drew to its hysterical, bad tempered climax, this blog openly wondered what T-word best describes a senior serving politician who deliberately seeks the help of foreign leaders, business moguls and NGO heads to bully and threaten his own people into making a certain decision.
I do not regret floating the T-word for a single second. As Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne debased and demeaned himself and his high office. He came down hard on the wrong side of the most profound and existentially important question to face Britain since 1945, and made almost zero preparation for the eventuality of a “Leave” vote in the referendum. By his words and actions he sullied both the tone of the EU referendum campaign and contributed toward the subsequent instability.
As Ben Kelly says, the time for George Osborne to do the honourable thing has long since passed. But this failed chancellor – who proved himself unable to deal with Britain’s deficit and unable to plan strategically in the event of a Leave vote – must now do the right thing and quit the British political scene at the earliest responsible opportunity.
Top Image: Daily Record
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And pigs will fly. If Theresa May wins he will stay exactly where he is.