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9 September 2010

Robert “Budget Is Regressive” Chote heads for the OBR

It could all end in tears for Cameron and Osborne.

By Mehdi Hasan

Is the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) “independent”? It’s a question my colleague David Blanchflower has been asking for several weeks now in his economics columns in the NS.

Today’s appointment of Robert Chote of the Institute for Fiscal Studies as the new head of the OBR — replacing the outgoing Sir Alan Budd — will go a long way towards reassuring the likes of Blanchflower. Chote has a reputation as a freethinker and is considered impartial and credible.

He has said that if his appointment is confirmed (by Andrew Tyrie‘s Treasury select committee), the OBR will present its judgements “without fear or favour“.

Chote joins his wife, Sharon White, who is a policy director at the Department for International Development, inside Cameron’s big tent — along with the likes of Will Hutton, Frank Field, Alan Milburn and, of course, the Liberal Democrats.

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But here’s a question: will Chote continue to describe June’s emergency Budget as “regressive” after he takes up the reins at the OBR? It might be a tad awkward for Cameron, Osborne, Clegg et al if he does.

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In fact, I suspect that Dave’s attempts to erect a “big tent” might backfire on him in the same way as Gordon Brown’s “government of all the talents”, or “goats“, did.

Meanwhile, over on the Telegraph blog, James Kirkup imagines the response of our former PM to news of this particular coalition appointment:

Mr Chote will now become a senior member of the wider Treasury establishment, only a few years after a certain Gordon Brown vacated HMT. It’s an open secret that the former PM was not a fan of Mr Chote. The oft-repeated story that Mr Brown engineered Mr Chote’s removal as economics editor of the FT in the late 1990s is overstated. But it’s certainly the case that Mr Brown frequently referred to Mr Chote using robust language, calling him things that cannot be repeated on a family blog . . . today, we can only imagine Mr Brown’s feelings.