One thing you can say about George Osborne is that he’s consistent (though of course consistency, as Emerson put it, is the “hobgoblin of little minds”). Since well before the general election last year, Osborne has been conjuring the spectre of Greece and its debt crisis to justify the Conservatives’ accelerated deficit reduction programme. Sometimes the mantra varies slightly and Osborne adduces Portugal as an example, rather than Greece.
And he was at it again on The Andrew Marr Show on BBC1 this morning, saying that Britain enjoys “German interest rates despite a Portuguese deficit” because of the government’s austerity measures. But, as my colleague George Eaton pointed out last month when the Chancellor was ruminating on Portugal’s request for an EU bailout, “Britain, unlike Portugal, Greece and Ireland, can afford to meet its debts over a sustained period of time (even under his plans, debt will be 68.8 per cent of GDP in 2014-2015).”
To his credit, Marr reminded Osborne that demand in the British economy remains sluggish, a point that George (Eaton not Osborne) also made:
There is, however, one big similarity between Portugal and the UK. They were both among just five EU countries to suffer negative growth in the final quarter of 2010 (the others were Greece, Ireland and Denmark) . . . The Chancellor may claim that Labour lacks a “credible deficit reduction plan” but, without growth, so does he.
And the 0.5 per cent GDP growth recorded in the first quarter of 2011 didn’t alter the picture: it merely partly corrected a contraction of the same size in the previous quarter.