The Part-Time Chancellors

John Rentoul

osb 300x225 The Part Time ChancellorsThe Treasury select committee has complained that George Osborne has made the Autumn Statement a second Budget every year. I have no view on the validity of that complaint, except to say that I would have thought the committee had more important things to consider.

But it reminds me of something Kenneth Clarke once said about the difference between being Chancellor and Home Secretary – after he had been both. The Home Secretary has to take tens of decisions a day or hundreds a week. The Chancellor has to take a decision on interest rates once a month and on a Budget once a year.

After he stopped being Chancellor in 1997, of course, the monthly decision on interest rates was contracted out to the Bank of England, which left Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling and George Osborne with just one decision a year.

This was recalled to me as an explanation for Gordon Brown finding the transition from the Treasury to No 10 so difficult – being prime minister is like being Home Secretary, only more so.

Who can blame Osborne for wanting to relieve the tedium of having only one decision a year? No wonder he wants a second Budget, and no wonder he has time to be the Prime Minister’s political secretary too.

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  • frances smith

    I think the job might have changed a bit since ken clarke had it, now there are all these international meetings of finance ministers that the chancellor has to go to, and there are regular letters from mervyn king telling him inflation is too high, that need opening and reading, which could be time consuming.

    which might explain why he is doing so badly at his other job of helping cameron win the next election, or then again it might not.

    (oh and the argument for not having two budgets a year is that budgets increase uncertainty for businesses.)

  • fleche_dor

    He had time to be director of strategy for the Conservative party until Lynton Cosby’s recent appointment, so part-time sums it up – if only his did! He has also had time variously to swan off to Davos for a week and travel to Germany for skiing off-piste on a foreign policy interview about Europe with “die Welt” before the PM’s speech on the subject.

    Meanwhile, petrol prices are about to go up 4p, the UK’s budget deficit is increasing, yet Germany’s public sector was in credit last year for the first time since 2007. Bank lending interest rate differentials, compared to BoE base rate are at their highest since well before the crash. There has been a Double Dip Recession, which may turn out to be triple dip and productivity has plummeted. The City’s bonus season is about to begin again, which apparently brings further good news from RBS’s bonus pool. George’s speeches at the previous two Davos shindigs called for an end to “banker bashing” and and end to “bumper banker bonus bashing”. He certainly called that one right in advance of LIBOR and PPI.

    At least unemployment is coming down, with all those people on part-time, zero hours contracts, or self-employment, better off than those “parked”, with the private employment contractors as “Lazy Thieving B*****ds”.

    He has managed to straighten out the corporate tax avoidance issue, using oversees havens) by inviting the likes of Vodafone to sit on the advisory group for the new UK law on the subject.

    Perhaps its time for the Chancellor to see his P45 and get back to flipping houses on his expenses, or was it towels, or burgers, or the jobs pages.

    The good burghers of Tatton and Whitney need to “wake up and smell the coffee”.

  • Open_Palm

    It would make a difference if he was competent in either capacity. Alas, the reality renders the whole thing rather pointless.

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