George Osborne is the most political of Chancellors, and his Budget today will doubtless read like a party political broadcast. The economic momentum is on his side: soaring employment, plunging inflation, fuel prices down. But he has had more trouble with the public finances than he expected (as things turned out he could afford it, as global borrowing rates have plunged). But in the interests of balance, here are a few economic bloopers that he won’t be boasting about.
1. The deficit plan: the single biggest disappointment of his five years. Once, he defined himself by his ability to abolish the structural deficit by the 2015 election. Now, it’ll be 2018-19 before the books are balanced. He has overseen many successes: borrowing costs are way lower, employment is way higher. But he fought the last election denouncing Labour for going too slow on deficit reduction. He has ended up going far, far slower.
2. His ‘long term’ economic plan has drifted two years behind schedule as the GDP per capita figures show
3. Salaries are creeping up, but are still far from war they were before the crash and from where he expected them to be. Low pay is the flip side to the jobs miracle.
4. Britain had the fastest-growing economy last year, but growth is far less impressive when you take in his five-year track record as the below chart shows. In the Anglopshere, only Ireland has fared worse than the UK.
5. Debt has soared and a Chancellor who made his name denouncing reliance on debt has ended up borrowing more in five years than Labour did in 13 years.
But he has got plenty right. Below is one graph that he won’t show – but he should, because it’s his greatest single achievement.