Bill Carmichael: A Dickens of a transformation for Osborne

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WHAT a piece of work is George Osborne?

Five years ago the newly appointed Chancellor seemed gauche and callow and it wasn’t long before he ran into deep trouble with his “omnishambles” Budget that was so unpopular with voters that it threatened the stability of the coalition Government.

Who can forget the caravan tax, the charities tax, the churches tax and, last but not least, the unmitigated disaster that was the pasty tax?

But today he is a man transformed, his position at the top of government alongside David Cameron unchallenged to the extent that he is already being spoken of as the Prime Minister’s heir apparent.

Osborne’s fingerprints were all over the Conservative campaign during the General Election that ruthlessly exploited Labour’s fatal weakness over the economy.

Now with a defeated Labour lying supine and struggling for breath, the Chancellor is applying a bit more pressure on the windpipe.

This week he announced the introduction of a “Micawber Law”, named after the Dickens character, that will prevent future governments from spending more than they receive in revenue except in exceptional circumstances.

This is a shrewd political move designed to sow panic and confusion in Labour ranks at a time when the lefties can’t quite decide whether they are for austerity or against it.

But it represents sound economic sense too. In times of plenty, governments should be shoring up the public finances ready to withstand the inevitable storms that lie ahead and not spending and borrowing like crazy – as Labour did in the run up to the crash of 2008.

We are currently borrowing about £80bn a year – well over £1bn a week – to finance unsustainable levels of government spending. The annual deficit at five per cent of national income is one of the highest in the developed world.

The figures for the debt – that is the accumulation of all the annual deficits – are even more terrifying. It currently stands at around £1.3 trillion – or more than £18,000 for every man, woman and child in the country.

By stubbornly refusing to live within our means, we are simply stealing from our own children and grandchildren.

And when the economy goes bad – as it inevitably will – it isn’t the millionaires who will suffer but the poorest and most vulnerable.

Osborne understands this. In his Mansion House speech this week, he said: “The people who suffer when governments run unsustainable deficits are not the richest but the poorest.

“Therefore, in normal times, governments of the left as well as the right should run a budget surplus to bear down on debt and prepare for an uncertain future.”

Well said! Of course some economists, mainly of the left, argue that government debt doesn’t really matter; that a few trillion here and there doesn’t make any difference.

But the reality is that once a nation’s debt becomes unsustainable it ceases to be a free and democratic country subject to the will of the people, and instead becomes a slave state entirely controlled by its unaccountable and unelected creditors. If you don’t believe me, just ask the Greeks.

Robin keeps crown

Broadcaster and naturalist David Lindo hoped to challenge the robin’s status as Britain’s favourite bird when he started a nationwide ballot of 200,000 people. “The robin’s many decades in power need to be challenged,” he said at the launch.

I sympathise because there are many delightful, and relatively common, birds that hardly get a look in while the red-breasted one is getting all the attention.

Last winter was brightened for me by the arrival of large flocks of long-tailed tits at my bird feeder. The sight of a tiny wren always cheers me up and I have a soft spot for the shy, unobtrusive dunnock.

In the event the result was predictable with the robin leading the way on 34 per cent.

Was it my imagination or was the robin who follows me around my allotment puffing out his crimson breast even more proudly than usual this week?