WHAT sort of Chancellor is George Osborne? He’s an austerity meanie, a generous chancer, a maker and breaker of promises, an accomplished juggler and a bumbling magician. He has cash to hand out or benefits to snatch back. He’s everything and he is nothing, and trying to work out what he did with all those mirrors and all that smoke will occupy many hours.
Not from me, though. Budgets of all sorts are a puzzle to me. The Chancellor looks after the country’s budget; and my wife looks after ours.
So I won’t worry about what George Osborne says even if it is worrying. My own budget is enough already. But the odd thing is that if my hole-in-the-pocket personal budget was run like the Chancellor’s, I’d be rich one moment (just bought a lottery ticket) and poor again the next (damn those numbers).
I’d be full of financial glee one day (the economy is robust, there is cash to spare, let’s go to Waitrose) and resonating with gloom the next (that world economy has let me down, all that cheap oil has screwed me, can we afford Lidl?).
I’d be tap dancing with glee over my own ingenuity; and I’d be shuffling my awkward feet as I attempted to cover up the collapse of my clever choreography, or indeed my personal economy.
I’d be – oh, you get the idea. Budgets used to be stern and secretive, now they are leaked all over the shop; they used to be concerned with dull finances (still are behind all the conjuring), but now they are mostly given over to political fireworks. George dazzles us by waving the sparklers while hoping we don’t notice that the rockets are rubbish this year
He speaks of planning for future generations, while keeping an eye on the next day’s headlines; he bungs a present here and hopes we won’t notice it’s the present he gave us last time, only with new wrapping paper.
“George, this is exactly the same present you gave me last year?”
“Ah, that’s because last year I promised you double presents as I’d got the whiff of an upturn in the economy from a bloke down the global betting shop. Turns out it’s all gone tits up. But it was such a good present last time that really you have gone two presents for the price of one.”
“George, isn’t it one present for the price of two…?”
Because George is such a chancer it’s hard to know what to believe. And with him being flush with money one moment (last November, as it happens) and suddenly broke again now, this all goes to reinforce my long-held suspicion that Chancellors are really just gamblers who ride the system. If the world economy is surging, they do well and tell us how brilliant they are; if the world economy stumbles they tell us that we live in difficult times, and they are doing the best they can.
As this ledge is based in the north, let’s end with some promises George is bunging in this direction. He will use this afternoon’s budget to set in motion plans for a high-speed railway line from Manchester to Leeds (good idea if it ever happens) and build an 18-mile underground road tunnel beneath the Peak District.
If the Northern Powerhouse means anything, and isn’t just a smoke-wreathed confidence trick, transport links need to be much better in the north, especially rail. But if I had a flat cap, I’d bet it on these rail promises being fulfilled sometime just beyond the stop called never.