Robert “Budget Is Regressive” Chote heads for the OBR

It could all end in tears for Cameron and Osborne.

Is the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) "independent"? It's a question my colleague David Blanchflower has been asking for several weeks now in his economics columns in the NS.

Today's appointment of Robert Chote of the Institute for Fiscal Studies as the new head of the OBR -- replacing the outgoing Sir Alan Budd -- will go a long way towards reassuring the likes of Blanchflower. Chote has a reputation as a freethinker and is considered impartial and credible.

He has said that if his appointment is confirmed (by Andrew Tyrie's Treasury select committee), the OBR will present its judgements "without fear or favour".

Chote joins his wife, Sharon White, who is a policy director at the Department for International Development, inside Cameron's big tent -- along with the likes of Will Hutton, Frank Field, Alan Milburn and, of course, the Liberal Democrats.

But here's a question: will Chote continue to describe June's emergency Budget as "regressive" after he takes up the reins at the OBR? It might be a tad awkward for Cameron, Osborne, Clegg et al if he does.

In fact, I suspect that Dave's attempts to erect a "big tent" might backfire on him in the same way as Gordon Brown's "government of all the talents", or "goats", did.

Meanwhile, over on the Telegraph blog, James Kirkup imagines the response of our former PM to news of this particular coalition appointment:

Mr Chote will now become a senior member of the wider Treasury establishment, only a few years after a certain Gordon Brown vacated HMT. It's an open secret that the former PM was not a fan of Mr Chote. The oft-repeated story that Mr Brown engineered Mr Chote's removal as economics editor of the FT in the late 1990s is overstated. But it's certainly the case that Mr Brown frequently referred to Mr Chote using robust language, calling him things that cannot be repeated on a family blog . . . today, we can only imagine Mr Brown's feelings.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.