Will Osborne produce a credible plan for growth?

Amid the gloom, one good news story isn’t enough and the Chancellor knows it. He must act to stem th

Tuesday's ONS release provided a rare slice of good news for George Osborne. Public sector net borrowing, excluding aid to the banking sector, totalled £6.5bn last month compared to £7.7bn in October 2010, leading analysts to predict that the Chancellor will meet his target this year for net borrowing. Now is not the time to clink the champagne flutes, however.

The timing of this news is important. It follows David Cameron's disclosure on Monday that getting the finances in order is "proving harder than anyone envisaged" and comes ahead of revised forecasts from the OBR next week, which are expected to confirm what others have been saying for months: the Chancellor's plans to eliminate the current structural deficit by 2014/15 are going to have to wait an extra year, probably even two.

Whether Tuesday's data will cushion the impact of the impending blow to be delivered by the OBR remains to be seen. The Chancellor will no doubt use it to reiterate the claim that his plan is broadly on track and the country must stay the course to keep the markets at bay. But deep down, he knows he faces an even bigger problem: an economy starved of growth. As he will no doubt be reminded going into next Tuesday's Autumn Statement, GDP increased by just 0.5 per cent over the year to the third quarter of this year and it remains 4 per cent below its peak level of Q1 2008. Following in the tracks of the Bank of England, the OBR is expected to downgrade its growth forecasts for 2011 and 2012 for a fourth time.

There is no shortage of reasons that have been given to explain the current slowdown. The government would like everyone to think that it is the fault of the Eurozone crisis, despite the fact that our GDP slide started far earlier than the rumblings in Athens and Rome. But the cause of the slowdown is less important than the fact of it. If there is a role for policymakers to play in responding to fluctuations in growth then action is needed now.

Thankfully, Cameron, Clegg, Cable and Osborne have started to acknowledge this, which is why we are likely to see announcements in next week's Autumn Statement to bring forward planned capital spending and further details on how "credit easing" will be implemented. These steps are welcome, yet on their own insufficient. The package would be made worse if -- as is expected -- it includes a series of measures to curb employment rights in the view, mistakenly held by those on the right, that this will magically spur job creation in the private sector.

On Tuesday, IPPR published our top 10 ideas for how the Chancellor can revive the stagnant economy and promote sustainable and inclusive growth. Some of our proposals are concerned with the lack of demand in the economy right now, while others focus on what needs to be done to address the long-term structural weaknesses that have plagued our economic performance.

In the short-term, the priority is plain and simple: generate more growth to reverse the recent rise in unemployment and set the economy back on the path to full employment. Hence our call for the Chancellor to pledge an additional £5 billion for infrastructure spending in affordable housing and transport in 2011/12, reverse plans to cut capital allowances which will disproportionately affect manufacturers, and offer a job guarantee to every long-term unemployed young person by injecting an extra £2 billion into a ramped-up 'Green Deal'. In our view Osborne must also ensure that further fiscal tightening not only heeds to market concerns, but is also response to business and consumer confidence, and the outlook for growth.

In the medium-term, there is a need to ensure that any growth is sustainable -- taking advantage of our strengths, whilst not being dependent on a handful of bubble-prone sectors -- and that the benefits are shared broadly. To help achieve this, we propose the creation of fully-operational National Investment Bank by 2013, a revamped Export Credit Guarantee scheme to support SMEs and giving the service sector better access burgeoning overseas markets, and a rethink of immigration rules that restrict students and skilled migrants entering from outside the EU, which hampers businesses and our world-class higher education sector.

Faced with the prospect of a decade of stagnant growth, the government must now act. It must first put out the fire and then rebuild the house. This will not be a straightforward task, but it must happen. No amount of good news should distract the Chancellor from the urgent need to announce a credible and comprehensive plan for growth -- of the sort we prescribe -- this coming Tuesday.

David Nash is Research Fellow at IPPR

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I can’t follow Marie Kondo's advice – even an empty Wotsits packet “sparks joy” in me

I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

I have been brooding lately on the Japanese tidying freak Marie Kondo. (I forgot her name so I typed “Japanese tidying freak” into Google, and it was a great help.) The “Japanese” bit is excusable in this context, and explains a bit, as I gather Japan is more on the case with the whole “being tidy” thing than Britain, but still.

Apart from telling us that we need to take an enormous amount of care, to the point where we perform origami when we fold our underpants, which is pretty much where she lost me, she advises us to throw away anything that does not, when you hold it, “spark joy”. Perhaps I have too much joy in my life. I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

After a while I gave up on this because I was getting a bit too happy with all the memories, so then I thought to myself, about her: “This is someone who isn’t getting laid enough,” and then I decided that was a crude and ungallant thought, and besides, who am I to wag the finger? At least if she invites someone to her bedroom no one is going to run screaming from it, as they would if I invited anyone to my boudoir. (Etym: from the French “bouder”, to sulk. How very apt in my case.) Marie Kondo – should bizarre circumstance ever conspire to bring her to the threshold – would run screaming from the Hovel before she’d even alighted the stairs from the front door.

I contemplate my bedroom. As I write, the cleaning lady is in it. To say that I have to spend half an hour cleaning out empty Wotsits packets, and indeed wotnot, before I let her in there should give you some idea of how shameful it has got. And even then I have to pay her to do so.

A girlfriend who used to be referred to often in these pages, though I think the term should be a rather less flippant one than “girlfriend”, managed to get round my natural messiness problem by inventing a game called “keep or chuck”.

She even made up a theme song for it, to the tune from the old Spiderman TV show. She would show me some object, which was not really rubbish, but usually a book (it may not surprise you to learn that it is the piles of books that cause most of the clutter here), and say, “Keep or chuck?” in the manner of a high-speed game show host. At one point I vacillated and so she then pointed at herself and said, “Keep or chuck?” I got the message.

These days the chances of a woman getting into the bedroom are remote. For one thing, you can’t just walk down the street and whistle for one much as one would hail a cab, although my daughter is often baffled by my ability to attract females, and suspects I have some kind of “mind ray”. Well, if I ever did it’s on the blink now, and not only that – right now, I’m not even particularly bothered that it’s on the blink. Because, for another thing, I would frankly not care to inflict myself upon anyone else at the moment.

It was all a bit of a giggle eight years ago, when I was wheeled out of the family home and left to my own devices. Of course, when I say “a bit of a giggle”, I mean “terrifying and miserable”, but I had rather fewer miles on the clock than I do now, and a man can, I think, get away with a little bit more scampish behaviour, and entertain a few more illusions about the future and his own plausibility as a character, when he is squarely in his mid-forties than when he is approaching, at speed, his middle fifties.

Death has rather a lot to do with it, I suppose. I had not actually seen, or touched, a dead body until I saw, and touched, my own father’s a few weeks ago. That’s what turns an abstract into a concrete reality. You finally put that to one side and gird up your loins – and then bloody David Bowie snuffs it, and you find yourself watching the videos for “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” over and over again, and reach the inescapable conclusion that death is not only incredibly unpleasant, it is also remorseless and very much nearer than you think.

And would you, dear reader, want to be involved with anyone who kept thinking along those lines? I mean, even if he learned how to fold his undercrackers into an upright cylinder, like a napkin at a fancy restaurant, before putting them in his drawer? When he doesn’t even have a drawer?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war