The phrase ‘By George’ is the modern version of the old battle cry of English soldiers and is best illustrated by Shakespeare in ‘Henry V’ when the King shouts “For Henry, England and St. George.”
This week it took on a new meaning when the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave an extraordinary performance in the Commons.
He started with a good joke. Provoked by Ed Balls over his holiday in America Mr. Osborne agreed that he had visited Hollywood and said that he had met Mickey Mouse who he assumed had been writing Mr. Balls’ economic analysis.
The Chancellor then produced his own comic interpretation of events. Britain is during rather well compared to the rest of the world eg. Greece. He conveniently ignored headlines such as ‘The anaemic recovery,’ a fall in output in June of 0.4%, contraction in car production, chemicals and paper and publishing and the Bank of England’s cut in its growth forecast from 1.8% to 1.2%. Britain’s trade deficit increased from £8.5bn in May to £8.9bn in June. This is the largest deficit for nine months.
The Chancellor was having none of it. He was basing his whole position on the willingness of the bond market to fund our borrowing requirement at competitive interest rates. The fact that his policies have so far failed to reduce Government debt was also ignored.
He did not mention Enterprise Britain apart from a mention of Local Enterprise Partnerships which are already heading in the direction of similar Government schemes – creative cash for the promoters.
He was, however, fluent and self assured unlike the Prime Minister who seemed to have lost the plot. He has certainly lost the support of Britain’s police.
Are the seeds of another Blair/Brown era being sown?
‘Second Amongst Equal’ (Raymond Holt: Profile Books 2002) analyses the battles over the years between Prime Ministers and their Chancellors. It was written before New Labour held sway but captures the mugging of Norman Lamont by John Major and the tensions between Geoffrey Howe and Margaret Thatcher who also clashed with Nigel Lawson. Harold Macmillan dedicated his political life to making sure that ‘RAB’ Butler never gained the highest office. Denis Healey clashed bitterly with Harold Wilson.
Slowly the impression is beginning to gain momentum that we are seeing the start of another titanic clash between the prime minister and his chancellor. If George can get away with the whooper he told in Parliament this week he needs to be taken rather seriously.