Boris Johnson: Drop the hair shirt approach, George Osborne

In the wake of the negative GDP figures, the London mayor joins the chorus of voices questioning austerity.

Et tu, Boris? On Thursday, Nick Clegg stuck the knife into George Osborne's reputation for economic strategy by declaring that the coalition had cut capital spending too harshly in its early days.

Yesterday, in the wake of GDP figures showing the economy shrank by 0.3 per cent in the final quarter of 2012 - pushing Britain closer to a triple-dip recession - Boris Johnson also publicly questioned the Chancellor's appraoch.

From Davos, he said it was time to "junk the rhetoric of austerity" in favour of boosting jobs and growth. "The single biggest inhibitor of demand is lack of confidence. If only some of the people in this room would invest some of the cash in their balance sheets we would see that confidence rewarded in a virtuous circle."

Johnson carefully moderated his criticisms by ostensibly directing them at the Bank of England, saying:

"There is huge potential in the UK. It is important we have the spirit of confidence. Some of the mutterings from Threadneedle Street are not the stuff to give the troops. We need investment in housing and transport, things that make a big difference."

While he supported Osborne's deficit-reduction plan, Johnson said he wanted more investment in growth-boosting infrastructure measures. He added that "the hair-shirt, Stafford Cripps agenda is not the way to get Britain moving again".

In the near future, the Guardian reports, Johnson's new economic adviser Gerard Lyons will publish the Mayor's "seven-point plan" for London, which includes building a new airport and hundreds of thousands of homes, as well as investing in transport infrastructure. 

Boris Johnson. Photo: Getty

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Photo: Getty
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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Liam Fox as International Trade Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for International Trade.

Only Nixon, it is said, could have gone to China. Only a politician with the impeccable Commie-bashing credentials of the 37th President had the political capital necessary to strike a deal with the People’s Republic of China.

Theresa May’s great hope is that only Liam Fox, the newly-installed Secretary of State for International Trade, has the Euro-bashing credentials to break the news to the Brexiteers that a deal between a post-Leave United Kingdom and China might be somewhat harder to negotiate than Vote Leave suggested.

The biggest item on the agenda: striking a deal that allows Britain to stay in the single market. Elsewhere, Fox should use his political capital with the Conservative right to wait longer to sign deals than a Remainer would have to, to avoid the United Kingdom being caught in a series of bad deals. 

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