Alastair's Blog

Return to:  Blog | Articles | Videos RSS feed

Osborne will love today’s IMF headlines, but HATE the piece comparing him with GB

Posted on 7 June 2011 | 8:06am

I claim no special insight into, or influence over, George Osborne. It was interesting however to note that within a day or two of my suggesting here that he needed to step up the communication of his economic Plan A, our relatively low profile Chancellor went on what by his standards may be termed a media blitz.

An IMF report which contains enough for him to spin things his way (provided he carefully ignores the rather less convenient downgraded growth forecasts elsewhere) was a relatively straightforward backdrop to his latest media outing. I didn’t hear his Today programme interview but the coverage of it suggests he was unneccessarily defensive about the way the media views him, the government and the economy. Looking at today’s headlines, you’d have to say they are still in something of a honeymoon phase.

That is perhaps why I was very struck by a piece from Steve Richards in the Independent. I hope he and his paper will forgive me when I admit I have not read the whole thing, but he gets generous treatment in the Labour Party’s media monitoring report, which I still get and which remains one of the best media briefs in the business (plug over, keep me on the mailing list, thank you).

It goes as follows … ‘Out of the media limelight, but obsessed with headlines’ (Indy op-ed) – Richards says of Osborne that his projection of the policy and of himself is both ruthlessly brilliant and artlessly awkward. He finds echoes of GB’s strategic approach in Osborne’s. GB opted for a relatively low profile for much of his time as Chancellor, using the big set-piece events in the Chancellor’s year and the occasional interview for public definition. Osborne chooses to do the same. This is unusual for a Chancellor. In some ways the Osborne/GB technique is highly effective, conferring on the elusive public figures a gravitas that ubiquity always undermines. Even though Osborne is not an economist and his policies are at best unproven, Richards detects a degree of awe when he is interviewed, or at least a tendency for soft questioning. At his peak the same applied to GB. However, this elusiveness dehumanises in the era of eternal communication. Osborne has a natural wit and rarely uses it in public. The same applied to GB. Although Osborne limits media appearances, he is obsessed with the media, another echo with GB. In his early years as Chancellor GB secured headlines to die for. But too often the fingerprints of his entourage were easily identifiable so that GB became the main victim of media exercises aimed at boosting his image. Similarly, most weeks Richards reads columns or hears analysis in which Osborne is so obviously the source. Osborne’s conflicting skills and qualities were on show during his interview on Today yesterday. He made a mistake in attacking the BBC throughout. The imagined bias of the BBC might attract sympathy from some Tory columnists, but listeners worried about the lack of growth will note a very early attempt at finding scapegoats. Yet Osborne also displayed empathic tonal range, and on the substance of this silly debate about whether he has a plan B he emphasised the flexibility built in to plan A. The debate is silly because no Chancellor can acknowledge an alternative route in advance (Indy).’

What I particularly enjoyed was the comparison between Osborne and GB. Osborne will hate this, and yet as I re-read just now, I thought yes, I can see a bit of that. Osborne, his allies gladly report, is something of a fan of TB, with whom he would love to be compared for his boldness, grasp of big picture, and strategic good sense; and not a fan at all of GB, a view much of which is born of the way he felt Gordon treated him when Osborne was but a shadow of his current self.

This image of Osborne as someone feigning indifference to his media profile, whilst all the while cultivating it, and having as a part of it the supposed indifference, is a rather interesting one. It has the ring of truth to it. Steve Richards is onto something. I would just like to thank him for providing the moment this morning when Osborne was flicking through his mountain of morning cuttings, baking in the warm glow of headlines that he could have written himself – ‘George Best’ indeed ho-hum – and suddenly coming across a column which compared him with Gordon. Oh he won’t have liked that, no, no, no.

  • Ehtch

    Modern online instant bulling is getting George to get towards thinking on the true line, as Gordon was.

  • Colin Burden

    Osborne’s reputation with the right wing media is largely built on them swallowing lies he has told about the economy past present and future. We are not Greece, and are nowhere near being so. The public finances have not improved. Ironically public sector spending is so far squeezed less than private sector. Far from inheriting a mess,the economy was rescued from total disaster – certainly from depression – by Gordon Brown’s leadership and the decisions he got the world to take — which (eg recapitalisation of banks and stimulus) the Tories opposed. None of that gets written about. Labour need to do more to re-engage in the arguments about the past to win the arguments on the future

  • Paula McAllion

    The IMF comes at economics from a very orthodox, fairly right wing perspective. So while he may have their economists supporting the austerity measures, he does not have the public here because we know what is happening to the fabric of communities The IMF neither knows nor really cares about that

  • Chrissie Aldred

    Unlike you I did hear his Today interview and thought he was silly and tetchy without needing to be. I tend to endorse your analysis that the media are very soft on them and on him in particular

  • MicheleB

    I reckon the media and also the IMF have to be easy about LittleO’s plan, to talk it down when in so many other ways the UK is riding high (in image/PR/culture terms) would look sour and destructive.

    I’ve never liked the stated policy of ‘this Parliament will run for 5yrs’ being put forth as cynically as it was  ie: as if it was more moral than flexible terms and the insinuation that elections in the past could be called quickly when things were good but could go downhill.

    I reckon this Parliament needs its 5yrs because there has never been any prospect that we’ll have achieved anything like appropriate national growth by 2015.  A fixed term can be a real hard negative, it’s just as easy for control freaks to withhold good results till term as they allege it was for others to exploit early good news.

  • Richard

    No double dip forecast: no “too far too fast” from the IMF. George must have more control over them than anybody thought………and more even than the luckless GB.
    Do they not read the Labour press releases and listen to the followers who hope that the economy fails and with it the coalition?

    • MicheleB

      ………who hope that the economy fails and with it the coalition? …………

      I’ve not heard a single Labour commentator hoping for such misery and I’d not respect one that did so.
      There’s a very big difference between ‘hoping’ for something and expressing the fear of it, are you really incapable of such a nuance?

      For thirteen years we all contributed to the costs of repairing 18yrs of Tory spoilerdom, I doubt a single one of us (of whatever political colour) looks forward to yet more of that dance hokey cokey/pokey routine when the truth hits the fan.

  • Paul M

    Osborne’s problem is that although he and Cameron know their cuts will cause unemployment, stagnant growth and bankruptcies, they think it’s a price worth paying in the long-term interests of the rich and powerful. They can’t say this as openly as Thatcher’s ministers of course. Whether they care hardly matters. Probably they don’t as they don’t have any poor friends or relations actually affected by the recession.

  • “Old City Hand”

    I thought Osborne sounded rattled in the Today interview and his casual put-down of the economists who dared criticise his policies as “left wing” was ill-advised and shows his amateurism as a financial/economic authority. It will certainly have left a few of the signatories to the Observer letter seething and created a few more enemies (shades of GB again?). Osborne has no personal sense of what might or might not work for the economy from a broad grasp of events, historic patterns, trends, numbers at home and abroad but has a brilliant sense for the immediate political gimmick and tactic. Only someone as naturally and fluently mendacious as he is could parade the support of the IMF while failing to point out that they consistently lauded GB’s chancellorship for ten years. 

  • Chris lancashire

    That’s it Paula, if you don’t like the verdict, blame the referee.

  • Chris lancashire

    Oh do come off it, you’re ALL obsessed with the media – you, Osborne, Cameron, Brown, Blair – but most of all you.

  • MicheleB

    The IMF have made it plain that he’s only tackling one of two discrete challenges.

    He’s tackling the deficit, that amount that was to be invested in today’s society and children and was at an advantageous interest rate, given the times at which taken out.

    He’s not tackling growth and employment, he doesn’t have an ounce of empathy with people already suffering or facing unemployment and no real income and no possibility of credit. 

    How could the poor dear be expected to know what that is like and the fear it strikes in others’ hearts?  Who would, till it’s happened to them?


  • Olli Issakainen

    Just came home and have not read the papers yet, but here were go again!
    IMF has got it wrong on numerous occasions before. OECD rarely criticizes governments.
    I have analysed financial reports and stock markets for 30 years. For me the numbers tell the truth as long as you have the right ones.
    An what do the numbers tell?
    Britain´s debt will be £1.4tr by 2014/15. And this figure does not include the hunderds of billions poured to the banks!
    Debt interest payments will be £73.8bn. Mr Cameron said that without his £110bn austerity package the bill would have been £70bn…
    This figure is 10.6% of the total tax take.
    I would be very interested to know how Mr Osborne is going to deal with this debt mountain and how he is planning to pay the interest.
    The Tory-led government is misleading the British public. It claims that after a couple of years of belt-tightening happy days will back again. But it is wrong.
    The truth is that real problems only start in 2015.
    Mr Osborne promised 2.5m new jobs by private sector during this parliament. Who believes this?
    Growth is anemic. And neoliberalism on which the government is basing its policies totally collapsed in 2008.
    As Sunny Hundal wrote in the Guardian, Tory credibility on the economy is a myth. How can the plan A have any credibility when it is not working..?
    An cutting capital investment now is a recipe for future disaster.
    There is no purpose in Mr Osborne´s plan. He is only making public debt private again. How is this going to help Britain´s economy?
    Total household debt will rise to £2,126bn! Debt as percentage of household income is to increase from 160% in 2010 to 175% in 2015.
    Average family debt will reach £77,000 by 2015.
    It is time for plan B, a balanced deficit plan that puts JOBS and GROWTH first. Mr Osborne should forget his ideological plan to shrink the state.
    An article in the Guardian says that George Osborne´s plan is not working, say top UK economists. The economic recovery is stalling.
    The growth of inequality made contribution to the financial crisis. Cuts have had negative rather than positive impact on confidence.
    The monetarist experiment has gone wrong. We cannot rely on monetary policy alone.
    When Mr Osborne says that he has no plan B he is telling the truth. But he did have one.
    The idea was that if the growth were to stall, the BoE would come to his rescue with a new round of quantitative easing (QE). But with inflation at 4.5%, this is not possible now. Anyway, QE has only limited potential.
    And now to my other favourite subject: Greece.
    It is not if, but when Greece will go bust. What will happen then?
    – every bank in Greece will go insolvent
    – government will nationalise every bank in Greece
    – government will forbid withdrawals from Greek banks
    – Greece will redenominate all its debt into new “drachmas”
    – this new currency will devalue by some 30-70% effectively defaulting 50% or more of all Greek euro-denominated debt
    – the chaos will spread to Ireland and Portugal
    – French and German banks will suffer
    – European Central Bank will become insolvent – it is not allowed to print money
    – Spain will suffer
    – attention will turn to British banks…
    So in the final analysis it does not matter what Mr Osborne does. If we continue with neoliberal capitalism, the world´s financial system will be in danger of total collapse by the end of 2013…

  • Paul M

    The IMF always wag their finger from their comfortable offices and luxury hotel suites about the profligate spending on the poor. Public debt bad, private debt good (except in principle). These guys were wrong about Britain in 1976 and they haven’t learnt anything.

  • Paul M

    That’s it Chris, don’t address the point question the motive

  • Paul M

    Richard, your faith in the wisdom of international bankers and economists is touching. I’m sure they never read or listen to anything as uncouth as the Labour Party. They consult the mystic runes, leaf through their dusty, yellowing economic textbooks and commune with their brother co-religionists.

  • Chris lancashire

    Paul M: OK, let’s address the point. It seems the point is that some people don’t agree with the IMF endorsing Osborne’s strategy. Now, I can see their point – after all the IMF has a mixed record – it endorsed a lot of what Brown did for example.
    More importantly it seems is that the IMF has lined up with the OECD, the EU, the CBI and IoD and probably a few other initials I’m not aware of. And whilst all of them don’t agree with every detail of what Osborne is doing they do agree that the defecit reduction strategy is broadly correct. Now they could all be wrong and Balls could be right but I’m betting on the initials.

  • Ehtch

    George is realising the world is not like as playing with plastic toys in his tucked away nusery away from  mom and dad, posh wallpaper and fabrics or not. Anyway, his family are old irish british aristocracy, and know how to put the blinds down to become blind when a million are starving to death a few miles away. He is a ponce, a total total ponce, and it shows, my god it shows.

  • Paul M

    Chris, Glad to have a sensible debate. Thanks. You cite all these organisations that the IMF has lined up with. I agree that the IMF has plenty of orthodox support. I can counter with opponents such as the TUC. My point is  that some organisations are better qualified to comment than others. The IMF’s prestige is hugely in excess of their actual economic knowledge and they’re not impartial.

  • Richard

    Nothing like a bit of objectivity Ehtch. Pedigree old partner pedigree!

  • Ehtch

    Thanks Gillebc. As a welshman, as a piggie in the middle, I totally understand what Ireland is all about, and why “things” happened, though it pains me that some people like the death of Winkler from Tumble, an Army Sergeant, truelly tested my patience, almost to the point of…., but anyway, capitalism and the english, if you can call them that, concentrated oxbridge offshoots are to blame, more or less, and they know it, in their non-infinite wisdom. Tools of shit they are.

  • Robert

    We are not obsessed with the media, Chris.

    We obsess about the lack of jobs for our nephews and nieces and their children. For our own children and grandchildren.

  • Ehtch

    I do try, but sometimes to some, trying, but that is their problem.

    I think I have a gift to point out the bleeding obvious, which bothers the work-for-work-sake non-lifers around us, that tend somehow never to become redundant. Quite bizarre, you could say, but quite understanding when you look at it a psychological level.

    Song time, I think, to press my point, Madge the loverly,

  • Anonymous

    Confess I haven’t experienced any of the coverage AC mentions.   I’m just hoping that the supine media is ‘behind the curve’ on this one, and that the public is more sceptical than the papers.  We don’t live in a world where people are quite so content at being told what to believe.  

    Question is, as the going gets increasingly rough, will he be able to hide, or will we see him involved in ever-more-desperate PR offensives?

  • Gilliebc

    Hi Ehtch,

    I’m so sorry to hear you are welsh, that must be awful for you!  🙂
    I’m only joking Ehtch.  Sorry, I just couldn’t resist it.  I am actually quite
    fond of the Scots, Welsh etc.

    Seriously though, as you are a Welshman I would be interested to know what thoughts you may have on the possible/probable break-up of the UK?   Personally I am against it.  Based on the fact that there is a certain strength in numbers and united we stand, divided we fall.

  • Gilliebc

    Take no notice of R.  He is a super-snob and a misogynistic ol’ misery-guts to boot. (imho)  Sorry R. if you happen to read this and recognise
    yourself.  No real offence intended. Actually, it’s almost a compliment because I think you probably take a certain amount of pride in your uncompromising stance, outlook and attitude. But, I could be wrong.  there’s always that possibility. 

    Ehtch, there is nothing wrong in stating the bleeding obvious (your words)
    someone has to.  A bit like the story of the Emperor’s new clothes.

  • Chris lancashire

    So we’d better take the TUC’s view – after all they’re not a vested interest are they – against IMF/OECD/CBI/IOD/BoE/EU? And you are clearly an expert on the IMF so why wouldn’t they be impartial, after all they have backed UK governments of all political hues?

  • Chris lancashire

    You might not be, Campbell is.

  • Mike

    John Lipsky’s top lip growth is clearly designed to divert attention from the utter crap he comes out with.

  • Paul M

    I accept your characterisation of the TUC as a vested interest –  just like the CBI and IoD. The IMF and OECD back governments of all political hues. In fact they hardly ever criticise G20 governments since they depend on their goodwill.

  • Chris lancashire

    Give in, there’s none so blind …

  • Ehtch

    Ah well, yes, the further break-up of the Union ninety years later from “the loss” of Connaught, Leinster, Munster and one turd( : ) ) of Olstor.

    Well it seems an ongoing business, when Westmonster, oops, Freudian slip there, Westminster still regards anyone outside of the home counties including Oxbridge and concentrated old British Empire Schools as a colony.

    If the home counties want to save the Union, they should move Parliament, lock stock and barrel, to the Midlands, even Milton Keynes of all places. And am I serious here, not being silly.

    That will stop the rot of the continuing festering collapse of the Union, which will be worse in a few years, when Scotland, rightly, goes west, and leaves us.

  • Ehtch

    By the way, when I said Milton Keynes, I had Bonn, the old Federal Deutchland Republic in mind, West Germany in mind, their capital before reunification in 1989.

    London is just a tourist shopping town, and is totally inefficient as a modern day tinternet communicating capital of the UK, Britain and England. It can still be the capital of England, if it wants, but not Britain, but certainly not the UK, I think.

    This is the kind of stuff the Cameron and Clegg roadshow should be coming out with! I am doing their job for them.

    And remember, The Bay and Hollyrood in Cardiff and Edinburgh for their Assembly and Pariament, respectively, didn’t take long to build, if you are worried about the logistics of all this.