Tuesday, 21 January 2014

The Right Honourable member for Tatton

I was probably never going to like George Osborne that much. I'm from the North and I'm a bit leftie. Osborne, as you probably know, swims every morning in a Scrooge McDuck style money bin before spending half an hour thinking up ways to further impoverish the already impoverished.  There are, weirdly, some areas of overlap in the Langsett - Osborne personal Venn diagram - same university and degree - but I think that's where the similarities stop, thank God. For Osborne has always seemed to be the worst kind of Tory, combining an unfeasible number of characteristics that have generally been viewed as bad news for centuries. For example; the economy's picked up a bit of late. Boethius would have regarded this as the wheel turning. Personally, I like the idea of millions of people's collective attempts to make things better bearing fruit. George Osborne, on the other hand - well, let's see what he thinks:

"By avoiding quick fixes and easy options, we're delivering economic security for the hard working people of this country."

In other words, he thinks that he sorted the economy out. Let's expand on that a bit more. He thinks that the fact that people suffered as a result of his inaction is evidence that he can use to back up the assertion that he sorted the economy out. He thinks that the fact that the the recovery is the slowest in a hundred years is also evidence that he can use to back up his assertion that he sorted the economy out. The truth is that you or I probably had more to do with the economic recovery than Osborne did. You might have worked harder, for less money, in order to keep the customers you have. Maybe you spent what money you had where you thought it might do the most good. Perhaps you invested in your business to preserve capability for the day when the economy started to come good. These are all things that Osborne could have done too, but chose not to.

Last week, Osborne was giving his views on reforming the EU - suggesting that Europe was falling behind Asian economies like India and China, and that only the Tories could reform the EU and save it from economic irrelevancy.

"We knew that there was a competitveness problem in Europe before the crisis...The hard truth is that if we want to maintain our way of life in Europe, we've got to be more competitive. And that's going to require some tough steps: living within our means, making our labour markets competitive, expanding free trade."

Being honest, this stuff sends a shiver of utter terror down my spine. It marks Osborne out as one of a tiny band of people whose job is secure enough to think that letting the waves of globalisation wash over us will be in some way a heartening, manly experience that enriches us all. I hope I am not fooling myself when I say that people from my bit of the UK generally have a different perspective. Successive waves of glaobalisation have stripped whole industries from the North, wasting expertise and skill along the way. Assuming Osborne is correct to suggest that the EU is on a course which will make the welfare state unaffordable. Is he really suggesting that it might be possible to create a level playing field by stripping away employment rights?

Let's think about what China is for a moment: a country with more or less unlimited natural and intellectual resources. A country which has welded the personal repression of the worst Communist regimes to economic freedom for corporate bodies. There is no scenario in which tinkering with European labour laws will do anything other than gratify Osborne's own instinct to make life worse for anyone poorer than he is.

Chinese labour laws on the other hand, are a different matter. The UK government is falling over itself to create trade links with China at the moment. Wouldn't it be worth including a delegation from the TUC on the next UK trade mission? Because the challenge here is to help China become an industrialised nation without doing unacceptable damage to the fabric of states that have already undergone that process. And the key to that is surely to raise the expectations of people in China, rather than ruining those of people here.

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