Why Britain’s budgets have gone mad

George Osborne wants the top job – and that means politics trump economics, says Peter Oborne in the Daily Mail. The chancellor talked of austerity during his Autumn Statement – but there was “no question” that he had abandoned it.

He used a £27bn “adjustment” by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), which has revised its projections for the national finances upwards since July, because of higher-than-expected tax receipts and lower-than-expected debt interest payments, to “splash around” cash that we don’t have and to claim “deceitfully” that British debt is falling. To bolster his own position, he has placed the national finances “in jeopardy”.

That’s going a bit far, says Allister Heath in The Daily Telegraph, although he is playing a “dangerous” statistical game in relying on official forecasts, which “are always wrong”. But Osborne has other agendas.

Firstly he is trying to “outfox” Labour – with his U-turns on cutting tax credits and attacks on property investors and big companies, his statement “could have been delivered by a moderate Labour chancellor” – and he also wants to “neutralise his two main rivals” for the Tory leadership, Boris Johnson (who favoured keeping tax credits) and Theresa May (by protecting the police budget).

To be fair, says Alex Brummer in the Daily Mail, Osborne has shown “courage and determination” in shrinking the size of the state. “The Budget deficit has been more than halved and barring a sharp economic downturn should have been eliminated by the end of this parliament.”

However, “the simpler, flatter taxes that Osborne once aspired to” have been replaced with Gordon Brown-style “complexity and meddling”. As a result, Britain has become a country where the “budgetary process has gone mad, and changes in taxation and spending are made so frequently that no citizen, firm of accountants or even tax inspectors could sensibly be expected to keep up”.

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