Through the looking-glass with George

Bizarre tales from the frat-boy-in-chief.

The publication of George W Bush's memoirs, Decision Point, and the accompanying media blitz reveal some bizarre anecdotes from one of the most controversial presidents in US history.

Some of more tasteful vignettes include his recounting of the time his mother showed him the remains of a foetus, saved in a jar after she suffered a miscarriage. This, Bush recalled in an interview with MSNBC's Matt Lauer, was intended to show that

It's important to understand my relationship with my mom . . . She says to her teenage kid: "Here's a foetus!"

On his troubling relationship with alcohol in the early part of his life, Bush recalls with enthusiasm the saucy repartee that endeared him to many. He suggests:

OK, so here's one of the worst . . . I'm drunk, at the [family] dinner table . . . I'm sitting next to a beautiful woman, a friend of Mother and Dad's. I said to her out loud: "What is sex like after 50?" Total silence. Not only silence, but serious daggers . . . From my wife.

On a more serious note, Bush argues in his book that the waterboarding of al-Qaeda operative Khalid Sheikh Mohammed helped prevent terrorist attacks on US targets and Heathrow and Canary Wharf. He writes:

Their interrogations helped break up plots to attack American diplomatic facilities abroad, Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf in London, and multiple targets in the United States.

In an interview with James Harding, editor of the Times, Bush makes similar points (£). His tome covers many other topics, from considering replacing Dick Cheney as vice-president during the 2004 elections to other statesmanlike quandaries such as having to pick up his dog Barney's mess after he left office.

Oh, and contrary to what we all believed, he was, in his words a "dissenting voice" on the invasion in Iraq in March 2003.

I was a dissenting voice. I didn't want to use force . . . I mean force is the last option for a president. And I think it's clear in the book that I gave diplomacy every chance to work.

George, you old rascal, you!

 

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There are risks as well as opportunities ahead for George Osborne

The Chancellor is in a tight spot, but expect his political wiles to be on full display, says Spencer Thompson.

The most significant fiscal event of this parliament will take place in late November, when the Chancellor presents the spending review setting out his plans for funding government departments over the next four years. This week, across Whitehall and up and down the country, ministers, lobbyists, advocacy groups and town halls are busily finalising their pitches ahead of Friday’s deadline for submissions to the review

It is difficult to overstate the challenge faced by the Chancellor. Under his current spending forecast and planned protections for the NHS, schools, defence and international aid spending, other areas of government will need to be cut by 16.4 per cent in real terms between 2015/16 and 2019/20. Focusing on services spending outside of protected areas, the cumulative cut will reach 26.5 per cent. Despite this, the Chancellor nonetheless has significant room for manoeuvre.

Firstly, under plans unveiled at the budget, the government intends to expand capital investment significantly in both 2018-19 and 2019-20. Over the last parliament capital spending was cut by around a quarter, but between now and 2019-20 it will grow by almost 20 per cent. How this growth in spending should be distributed across departments and between investment projects should be at the heart of the spending review.

In a paper published on Monday, we highlighted three urgent priorities for any additional capital spending: re-balancing transport investment away from London and the greater South East towards the North of England, a £2bn per year boost in public spending on housebuilding, and £1bn of extra investment per year in energy efficiency improvements for fuel-poor households.

Secondly, despite the tough fiscal environment, the Chancellor has the scope to fund a range of areas of policy in dire need of extra resources. These include social care, where rising costs at a time of falling resources are set to generate a severe funding squeeze for local government, 16-19 education, where many 6th-form and FE colleges are at risk of great financial difficulty, and funding a guaranteed paid job for young people in long-term unemployment. Our paper suggests a range of options for how to put these and other areas of policy on a sustainable funding footing.

There is a political angle to this as well. The Conservatives are keen to be seen as a party representing all working people, as shown by the "blue-collar Conservatism" agenda. In addition, the spending review offers the Conservative party the opportunity to return to ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ as a going concern.  If they are truly serious about being seen in this light, this should be reflected in a social investment agenda pursued through the spending review that promotes employment and secures a future for public services outside the NHS and schools.

This will come at a cost, however. In our paper, we show how the Chancellor could fund our package of proposed policies without increasing the pain on other areas of government, while remaining consistent with the government’s fiscal rules that require him to reach a surplus on overall government borrowing by 2019-20. We do not agree that the Government needs to reach a surplus in that year. But given this target wont be scrapped ahead of the spending review, we suggest that he should target a slightly lower surplus in 2019/20 of £7bn, with the deficit the year before being £2bn higher. In addition, we propose several revenue-raising measures in line with recent government tax policy that together would unlock an additional £5bn of resource for government departments.

Make no mistake, this will be a tough settlement for government departments and for public services. But the Chancellor does have a range of options open as he plans the upcoming spending review. Expect his reputation as a highly political Chancellor to be on full display.

Spencer Thompson is economic analyst at IPPR