This morning [4/12] on BBC Radio 4’s Today program, George Osborne lashed out at the BBC’s coverage of the budget labelling it ‘hyperbolic’.
This is a pretty low tactic, and also substantively wrong. All the BBC were doing is pointing out what Osborne’s budget ombudsman the Office for Budget Responsiblity had said, which was that planned [but as yet unspecified] spending cuts would reduce the size of the state [government spending as a share of GDP] to levels around those last seen in the 1930s.
As Chris Cook pointed out on Newsnight last night, this is amazing in the history of modern capitalism. That history charts a steady rise in the size of the state, either as it gains new competencies and enlightened insight into its proper role (my view), or interest groups hijack it to nefarious ends (Tea Party view).
The comparisons the BBC and OBR made highlight very well how incredible Osborne’s plans are, because there is surely not any support for such a shrinkage, even in the bulk of Tory voters. On my view, you have to persuade people they don’t want something they should be getting. Even on the Tea Party view, you have to wage war against so far entrenched interest groups to cut spending.
That fact no doubt explains why so little of the spending cuts needed to deliver the Autumn Statement forecast have actually been specified, because doing so would immediately lose them the election.
Osborne’s next ploy, to say ‘all the disaster that was forecast last time just did not happen, so why hasn’t the BBC learned this time around’ is also equally off the mark. Last time, disaster was averted – for the economy and for his Party – because deficit reduction was postponed. Wise, as I have frequently pointed out, when the Bank of England is unable to inject more stimulus at the floor to interest rates. Moreover, as others have made clear, electoral disaster – or further obfuscation – is more likely next time because the next round of cuts will be harder. Why? Because they will fall on spending by definition identified as higher priorities (hence not cut) in the last spending review.
Even with a good case, Osborne should refrain from hacking at the BBC in this way, outside of all due process. That tactic takes us further down the US road where discussing government policy becomes entirely a matter of competing fictional narratives, and detached from fact. But he didn’t have a good case.