You know the feeling – the visceral unease as you drag yourself into work, gazing at a sea of fellow commuters, dreading some impending confrontation in the office. A showdown with your boss, colleagues, maybe a client. You gulp, take a deep breath, and front up. And then when the fireworks are set to explode… it turns out to be kind of OK. Not such a drama after all. What was all the fuss about?
Prime Minister David Cameron had one of those days yesterday, when he headed stern-faced to the Commons to face a cacophony created by his error-prone chancellor George Osborne. Another U-turn, a cabinet resignation, an opposition that should have been buoyed into action by some unexpectedly positive opinion polls – Cameron was on the ropes. Yet Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn failed to land a punch. If anything, he somehow ended up with more bruises than the PM.
Osborne, who stayed away (presumably locked in the dog house), is a lucky man. Despite blundering into yet another calamitous Budget – the second in under a year – his party appears to have escaped without too much damage. He must, however, learn from his repeated errors.
Last week’s Budget speech, amusingly, contained six references to creating a simpler tax system. While preaching the virtues of simplicity, Osborne unveiled more tax changes than any Budget in modern history – more than 80, according to research by The Economist. This compares to fewer than 20 during many equivalent statements made by Gordon Brown, the notorious fiddler of all things fiscal.
According to calculations made prior to Osborne’s latest bout of tinkering, more than five million words have been added to Tolley’s Tax Handbook since 2009, making it a dozen times as long as the King James Bible. Instead of choking us with an increasingly complex web of new rules and initiatives, the chancellor must focus on the core issues that threaten our economy – perennially sluggish productivity growth, and the dire state of our public finances.
It’s time that Osborne stopped seeing his job as an opportunity for complex political manoeuvring, and took a more statesmanlike approach. In doing so, he’ll also create fewer opportunities to trip himself up.