Osborne needn’t say sorry – after all his Budget was just a suggestion
There’s no need for George Osborne to say sorry for trying to cut money to the disabled: he says it was a genuine mistake, and he couldn’t possibly know that cutting money to the disabled would lead to the disabled being poorer in any way.
How could anyone have predicted that taking away money for carers who get people dressed and take them to the toilet might have worried anyone at all? Is he supposed to be psychic? There was every chance these measures would have been welcomed by the disabled. They’d have been free to mess on the floor instead of fussing about going backwards and forwards to a toilet, leaving plenty of time to pursue other leisure activities such as go-karting.
We all make mistakes. Some of us put cardboard packaging in the wrong recycling box. And some of us try to take £4 billion off the disabled. We can’t say sorry for everything can we? In any case, Osborne’s explained the reason for these cuts is to build a strong economy, and there’s no greater sign of a strong economy that someone with spina bifida laying in their pyjamas for three years because we’ve made redundant the carer that used to get them dressed. And, to be fair, there was an element of genius about his Budget. Because up until last week, it was believed to be impossible to come up with benefit cuts so appalling that Iain Duncan Smith would oppose them. Osborne should receive the credit due for overturning such a natural law.
He probably announced his intention in a gentleman’s club, declaring over a bottle of port: “Gentlemen, I hereby declare I have discovered cuts so gargantuan, so magnificently despicable, I contend the fellow Duncan- Smith shall scream with fury at their injustice.” Then the others must have stood upright and bellowed “Preposterous, Sir. Such cuts are not possible within the known universe. To discover such reductions would confound the very essence of mathematics, you are a fool, Sir.”
And they had a point, because Duncan Smith was dedicated to cutting benefits. When he got home from his job of cutting benefits, he used to cut more benefits in his spare time for fun. His wife would knock on the shed door on a Sunday afternoon, saying “Come and have a rest, dear, you’ve been in here since six this morning”, and he’d reply, “I won’t be long, I’m just working out how to make people in a coma attend job interviews.” And he went berserk about Osborne’s cuts.
So instead of saying sorry, the Chancellor must have expected to ride into the House of Commons on a white horse while his MPs begged him to touch them in the belief it will make them taller and live forever.
His problem was the reaction from everyone else as well as Duncan Smith. The Conservatives seem to believe their own newspapers and assume they have no opposition, so they can do whatever they like, as most people will think ‘“I don’t mind that the Tories have stopped my disabled aunt going to the toilet, because at least their leader sings the National Anthem’”.
David Cameron must be encouraged in this belief by the way that, whenever Jeremy Corbyn is speaking in Parliament, his own Labour MPs sit behind him sneering and flicking through Viz magazine or doing the puzzles in Take- a- Break. You expect them to start making humming noises and flicking paper clips at his head while he’s responding to a statement about Syria.
But on this issue, so many people were furious that the Government had to abandon huge chunks of their plans, and Nicky Morgan adopted the imaginative line that the entire Budget was “just a suggestion.”
This is certainly a modern touch; to deliver a Budget – a 90-minute, precisely written detailed speech, pieced together for months and concerning exact plans for every aspect of the economy – and then say “But hey, that’s just a suggestion.” Next year, the Budget speech will start: “OK let’s all get in a circle and go round saying our names, then we can break up into workshops and write down some ideas on what we think should be spent on what stuff, then come together for feedback after lunch.”
In some ways he’s already gone further than that, because now he’s been forced to abandon his plans, his figures are four billion pounds out. But he says that doesn’t matter as he’s on course to meet his target anyway. So he didn’t even need to make the cuts, he just fancied doing it anyway. Maybe he thought it’s not fair the disabled get all this disability money every single year, we should let other groups have it for a change; people who keep tropical fish, perhaps.
Combined with all his targets he gets nowhere near keeping, it suggests he sees numbers as an unnecessary distraction. In his Autumn Statement he’ll tell us: “It does appear that when I was working out the country’s money, I multiplied when I should have divided so we’ll have to sell the nNavy, but hey ho, the important thing is if you ignore the figures we are stronger and sounder than ever before.”
It’s possible that what forced the Conservatives to change their plans for the economy, for the second time in a few months, is a vast, if not always visible, opposition. And however chaotic Labour may appear, at least under Jeremy Corbyn they now oppose the cuts.
Or maybe Osborne is honest, and as he said, this episode proves he listens. Similarly, if the police catch a burglar robbing a house, and the burglar then agrees to put back the stuff he tried to nick, this proves the burglar listens, and we should in no way expect him to say sorry.