Osborne isn’t the cat’s whiskers but we don’t have to give up on austerity

 
Marc Sidwell
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AS THE UK economy skids towards a triple-dip recession, many are looking at George Osborne and his plan A and wondering whether someone else could do better. Osborne’s own cat Freya, for instance. If we saved on Osborne’s salary and, in a spirit of austerity, paid his replacement with Whiskas and the occasional catnip chew toy, would we notice any difference in the quality of decision-making?

One financially-astute feline that suggests this idea might not be so silly after all is Orlando, the stockpicking cat. Following a long line of prescient monkeys and other domesticated fund managers, Orlando was recently recruited by The Observer to chose stocks by throwing a toy mouse at a page of numbers. His choices outperformed a team of professional fund managers by a factor of three.

Stockpicking and policysetting may be different professions, but Orlando shows that sometimes much more can be done with less cleverness. A further wrinkle to the Orlando study was that tracking the index beat absolutely everyone, even the cat. Osborne, being both chancellor and the top Tory electoral strategist, is a cunning tinkerer with taxes and regulation. He apparently imagines that constant intervention will maximise both tax receipts and his party’s advantage at the ballot box. But sometimes the simplest way is the best: tracking the index or, for a chancellor, the power of flatter, simpler taxes to raise receipts and boost the economy.

While simplicity would be a start, it’s not enough. If we don’t hire Orlando to replace Osborne, we should put Tardar Sauce, the internet’s favourite Grumpy Cat, on our shortlist. Osborne is a blithe and cheery sort, able to enjoy a pizza at Davos, even when he’s just been told the latest depressing GDP figures. His department celebrates its achievement in bringing the deficit down by a quarter, despite ballooning national debt and the creep of its original deadlines for consolidation. When it comes to bad news about your ability to stop spending other people’s money, an honestly grumpy face would be an asset.

But if the Treasury wants to start a more wide-ranging interview process for 11 Downing Street, they should send an HR team to Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium when it opens. Hoping to be London's first cat cafe, this small business idea is currently eschewing Funding for Lending in favour of crowdfunding on Indiegogo. The Japanese cat cafe craze is a business model that no political planner could have predicted: the sort of idea that free markets are so good at developing into profitable forms. And as employees of a small business, its staff of cats will know better than Osborne and his mandarins how regulatory hurdles continue to stand in the way of their owner’s further investment in scratching posts and other essentials for expansion.

But sadly, we’re stuck with the man at the top: caught in his cat’s cradle of interventionist policies that promise austerity but can’t seem to cut spending or stimulate growth. If only he’d just let sleeping cats lie.

Marc Sidwell is managing editor of City A.M.