Revealed: how Osborne misled MPs over the deficit

The Chancellor said that borrowing was forecast to fall this year but the small print of the Office for Budget Responsibility document suggests otherwise.

Against expectations, George Osborne announced in his Budget speech that the deficit was forecast to fall "this year and next". He insisted that this was the case even if special factors (such as the transfer of the Royal Mail pension fund) are excluded. 

But scour the small print of the Office for Budget Responsibility document and it emerges that the Chancellor misled the House. As Table 4.36 shows, "excluding Royal Mail, APF and SLS transfers" (the final column), borrowing is forecast to rise from £121bn in 2011-12 to £123.2bn in 2012-13. As in last year's Autumn Statement, when he banked the 4G receipts early, Osborne has once again relied on smoke and mirrors to disguise his fiscal failings. 

This isn't mere pedantry; consistent deficit reduction is crucial to Osborne's narrative that "we're on the right track". But as the figures below show, that is far from the case. 

George Osborne poses for pictures outside 11 Downing Street in London before the Budget. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.