Boris undermines Osborne's austerity argument

Mayor of London points out that "Greek austerity measures are making the economy worse".

Even by his own high standards, Boris Johnson is on combative form this morning. The Mayor of London uses his regular Telegraph column to urge EU leaders to let Greece default on its debts and force it to leave the euro, while in a piece for the Sun, he launches an assault on Ken Clarke's sentencing plans. "Soft is the perfect way to enjoy French cheese, but not how we should approach punishing criminals," he writes.

But it's a line in his Telegraph column that really stands out: "The trouble is that the Greek austerity measures are making the economy worse." It's a point that Ed Balls and others have made frequently in recent months but it's not one that you'll hear from George Osborne, for the simple reason that it contradicts his claim that spending cuts are a precondition for growth.

The austerity measures adopted by Ireland, Portugal (which went one better than Osborne and raised VAT twice) and Greece have exacerbated, rather than diminished, their economic problems. As Balls argued in his LSE lecture last week: "[W]hat they [Portugal], Ireland and Greece have all discovered - just like Argentina, Brazil and Turkey before them - is that it doesn't matter how much they cut spending or how much they raise taxes; if they can't create jobs and growth, their debt and deficit problems get even worse and market confidence falls further still."

Similarly, in Britain, rather than increasing growth, Osborne's austerity agenda has destroyed it. The economy, which grew by 1.8 per cent over Q2 and Q3 2010, has not grown for the last six months. Britain, which was at the top end of the European growth league table, is now fourth from bottom, with only Greece, Portugal and Denmark below it.

Yet according to Osborne's doctrine of "expasionary fiscal contraction", the reverse should have happened. As the state contracts, the economy should expand. But with consumer spending still depressed and the banks not lending enough, where will growth come from if not from active government? Britain, like Greece, cannot cut its way out of stagnation.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Vote Leave have won two referendums. Can they win a third?

The Remain campaign will hope that it is third-time unlucky for Vote Leave's tried-and-tested approach.

Vote Leave have launched a new campaign today, offering a £50m prize if you can guess the winner of every game at the Euros this summer. They’ve chosen the £50m figure as that is the sum that Vote Leave say the United Kingdom send to the European Union every day.

If you wanted to sum up Vote Leave’s approach to the In-Out referendum in a single gimmick, this is surely it, as it is deceitful – and effective. The £50m figure is a double deception – it’s well in excess of what Britain actually pays, and your chances of winning are so small they can only be viewed through an electron microscope. Saying that “the UK pays £50m to the EU” is like saying “I paid £10 for breakfast at Gregg’s this morning” – yes, I paid with a £10 note, but I got £8 back.  The true figure is closer to £26,000 a day.

But the depressing truth is that this sort of fact-free campaigning works – and has worked before. It’s the same strategy that Matthew Elliott, the head of Vote Leave, deployed to devastating effect, when he was head of the No to AV campaign, and that Dominic Cummings, head of strategy at Vote Leave, used when he was in charge of the anti-North East Assembly campaign: focus on costs, often highly-inflated ones, and repeat, over and over again.

This competition is a great vessel for that message, too, with the potential to reach anyone who has at least one Facebook friend with an interest in betting or football, i.e. everyone. And as my colleague Kirsty Styles revealed yesterday, this latest campaign is just one in a series of Internet-based, factually dubious campaigns and adverts being used by Vote Leave on the Internet.

The difficulty for the opponents of No2AV was, as one alumni of that campaign reflected recently, “how do you repudiate it without repeating it?”. A row over whether the United Kingdom sends £50m or £26,000 – itself £1,000 higher than the average British salary – helps the Leave campaign whichever way it ends up.

Neither Yes to Fairer Votes or supporters of a devolved assembly for the North East ever found a defence against the Elliott-Cummings approach. Time is running out for Britain Stronger In Europe to prevent them completing the hattrick. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.