In Psmith, Journalist (1915), P.G. Wodehouse’s most enterprising character stumbles into the world of New York journalism and transforms a sleepy and sentimental family paper, Cosy Moments, into a campaigning publication. He sacks all the regular columnists and launches a crusade to improve the living conditions of tenement dwellers and unmask their anonymous landlord, despite threats encouraging him to stop: ‘Cosy Moments cannot be muzzled!’ he declares.
A new five-year plan is always a landmark event in the life of the people. The chancellor has acknowledged the deviationist errors of the past. He has re-educated himself since the 2012 budget which tried to VAT meat pies, a staple of the worker’s diet. He has learned how to do glottal stops so he can tell the people how it is in a language they understand. He is the economy’s friend. He knows that a friend to the economy is a friend to the worker, the powerhouse of the land.
The chancellor's Autumn Statement is as political and obscure as we might expect. A bit of spending here and a bit of cutting there. A tilt at the rich and corporations which, except for the change to stamp duty, won’t do much. The ‘banding’ of stamp duty is a kind of mansion tax which in principle would be desirable, if it didn't mean that the government has yet another reason to ration housing. (More houses means cheaper houses, which means a lower return on stamp duty.)
The budget details had been so widely leaked that there were few surprises. The chancellor had little room for manoeuvre and resisted the temptation to go for broke. (That probably comes next year, just before the election.) The Lib Dems got their £10,500 tax threshold – which won’t make much difference. The drinkers and bingo players got something; but other betters and smokers did not. There was a little for small business. Those who pay a 40 per cent marginal rate saw the threshold at which they pay it raised a little, but probably not as much as they expected. Older people with savings do well. Changes to pension arrangements, the introduction of more ‘generous’ ISAs and the pensioner bond do something to restore income to those whose savings in the last few years had received negligible returns. It is apparent that the budget is meant to appeal primarily to older voters – who are more likely to vote than any other age group.
From Glasgow to Brighton to Manchester, the party conference roadshow grinds on and, as every year, the big relief with the Tory do is that it’s the last one. The party shindies – still called ‘conferences’, but rallies in all but name – offer televiewers (and who watches this stuff?) a window on Totalitaria, a Lego Pyongyang. One-liners are delivered, opponents are trashed, and it often takes the somnolent claque a while to cotton on that they’ve missed their cue to ovate. Speakers offer little in‐jokes to nervous titters from the floor. Why don’t the party managers go the whole hog and have the rank and vile simply holding up cards, North Korea-style, to make a big smiley face when Osborne or Pickles reaches a claptrap moment? The telly coverage, too, is a pain in the arse, with kitsch‐complicit cutaway shots from whichever hack is on the rostrum, to their spouse or arch-enemy, to humanise the whole ghastly spectacle.
The chancellor’s autumn statement was rhetorically quite adroit. It remains within the ‘narrative’ established by the coalition when it was formed – that Britain’s debts were at unprecedented levels, and as such there was no alternative to paying them off as fast as possible. Anything else would lead to our being no better than Greece, Spain or Italy. The happy consequence of drastic debt repayment is that yields on British government debt are as low as Germany’s (true, but not because of debt repayment) and much lower than the decrepit Mediterranean states. That the ‘size’ of Britain’s debt is largely folk myth doesn’t alter the fact that the perpetuation of the myth is consistent with everything the government has already said.
Slavoj Žižek: 'One should bear in mind the basic rule of Stalinist hermeneutics: since the official media do not openly report trouble, the most reliable way to detect it is to look out for compensatory excesses in state propaganda.' Now count how many times George Osborne says 'confidence', ‘strong' and ‘secure' in less than two minutes in this recent interview with the BBC.