The Chancellor gave evidence to the Treasury select committee today, and he was challenged about The Spectator’s analysis of his systematic attempt to mislead over the cost of Brexit. A loss of £4,300 per household, he said: a figure that he fabricated using three tricks.
- He disguised an increase as a decrease: the Treasury study suggests that GDP would be a 29 per cent bigger in 2030 with Brexit and and 37 per cent bigger with no Brexit. So the choice is between two significant rises. By no stretch of the English language is this a ‘fall.’
- Osborne conflated household income with the very different notion of GDP, so he could arrive at a higher (and scarier) figure.
- He then divided the difference in GDP by the number of households today, rather than the number of households in 2030, to cook up an even higher figure.
And he got away with it all because the analysis focused on how the Treasury arrived at its figure of GDP being 6.2 per cent smaller, rather than how the Chancellor translated this into the vernacular per-household figure. Also, Osborne made sure he had high-tailed it out of the radio studios long before the Treasury released the Brexit report that he had been referring to.
But then, there’s Parliament to haul ministers up when they abuse statistics in this way. The above video shows Steve Baker confronting him, time after time, and the Chancellor dodging the question each time.
Osborne was inventing, rather than cherry-picking, figures. What he did was worse than exaggeration. Had such distortions been used a financial company regulated by his officials, it would have been a criminal offence. The question the Committee didn’t ask is, perhaps, the most interesting one: which Treasury officials signed off this flagrantly misleading figures? How was this fabrication passed off as a government figure? Who in the Treasury thought this £4,300 figure was, in any way, a fair representation of the economic study that the Treasury had conducted?
As a former business journalist who moved into politics, I never cease to be amazed at the way politicians regulate the life out of mortgage insurance salesman, while themselves deploying Del Boy tactics to deceive the public over far more important issues.
Now, is all this a scandal? It depends how much importance you place on the notion of honesty in politics. In Osborne’s case, we certainly know the answer.