Janice Atkinson for The Daily Mail
26th July 2012
It’s the silly season in politics. At this time of year, all manner of silly stories make it onto the newswires because it’s holiday time. The biggest of these concerns Vince Cable, who has been suggested for Chancellor and who says he would probably make a very good job of it. This is just as silly as putting the Lib Dems in charge of the Energy department. (Unfortunately, the Treasury has been the silly story since the beginning of the Coalition.)
A former Lib Dem press officer is Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Danny Alexander). A young Tory party automaton is Treasury Economics Minister (Chloe Smith) and squawking Gauke, the man who worked hard to help companies avoid tax, who lectures us on paying cash in hand to small businesses, is another man from the Treasury. Boy George, our part-time Chancellor who has never had a proper job in his life, is in charge of our finances.
The politics of this is that Cameron is not going to sack Osborne any time soon, so he has an option open to him: U-turn, and get someone grown-up into No.11.
The Treasury is on the right track by encouraging infrastructure projects. It is failing, however, to get to grips with one area which could generate thousands of jobs, tax revenue, and a shot in the country’s economic arm – airport expansion. This has been kicked into the long grass because MPs have acted against the national interest by opposing the expansion of Heathrow.
Two Secretaries of State who are responsible for shaping growth – Cable, whose Twickenham constituency is on the flight path of Heathrow – and Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Transport and MP for Putney, have both dodged the issue. Cable has suggested expanding Birmingham, a very long way from Twickenham. Both of these ministers are failing in their briefs. A U-turn is needed to expand Heathrow.
The Treasury must ignore the Lib Dems and the left by cutting the top rate of tax from 45p back down to 40p, putting more money in the pockets of the high earners who in turn will spend it. It should reduce corporation tax now, instead of waiting ’till 2014-15. This will all be recouped by increased spending and jobs growth from industry and individuals. Further, it should bring plans to shift the lowest paid out of tax forward by a year. This is not a U-turn, this is strategy.
Osborne needs to resign as head of strategy for the Tory party. He is supposed to have better political antennae than Cameron, but is failing to stop damaging news stories and the Opposition’s sniping about being a part-time Chancellor. His failure to concentrate fully on the Treasury has let loose the hapless Smith and Gauke. There are far better strategists sitting idly on the back-benches: it’s time to promote them. Liz Truss springs to mind. Her papers on business and education are common sense and should be adopted.
A further difficulty facing Osborne is the myth of spending cuts. What spending cuts? In real terms our spending has only been reduced by 1 per cent, with real spending starting to go up again. So Balls’s theory that the double-dip recession is due to spending cuts is another silly story, though most do not believe it. The Coalition needs someone credible to deliver the message that the mess is Balls’s fault – not Smith, Gauke or Alexander.
Osborne needs strong allies and spokespeople. He should sack Smith and Gauke and replace them with John Redwood and Matthew Hancock – an ally of the Chancellor and a very clever man. Goodness knows Alexander should be dumped, but I recognise that for reasons of Coalition unity they have to keep a Lib Dem in the fold. Imagine Redwood being sent in for interview with Paxo, rather than Smith. The voters and business leaders will then have more confidence in our hapless Treasury. And we will see fewer foolish foot-in-mouth moments.