Monday, 18 March 2013

I hope George Osborne has been watching top-flight tennis ahead of this week’s budget

When tennis players ranked between five and ten in the ATP league table come up against the Big Four (Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and Murray) they can approach the match in one of two ways: play a cautious game and wait for their opponents to make mistakes, or go nuts and throw everything at their more talented opponents in order to put them off their stride.

If they take the cautious approach, based on the slim chance of the superior player having an off-day, they lose 19 out of 20 times. If they attack them hell-for-leather, they’ve got a much better chance – they’ll lose, say, 16 out of 20 times. But if they choose all-out attack, and fail, at least they go down with a glorious, exhilarating bang rather a pathetic, dispiriting whimper. And they learn something about themselves and their opponent in the process: if they play their normal game, they merely underline the fact that they’re not as good at tennis as the bloke on the other side of the net. 

There’s a lesson in this for our chancellor, George Osborne.

Up till now, Cameron’s watery-eyed henchman has taken the cautious approach – a snip here, a snip there, steady as she goes, let’s not rock the boat, the economy’s bound to turn round in the end and there’s no need to frighten the horses or change course, keep printing money, cross your fingers, and hope something’ll turn up. Which, of course, it won’t.  

The results of this strategy are clear: our national debt continues to mount, the economy is flat-lining, and the Tories will lose the next election. Osborne's style of economic stewardship is the equivalent of Berdych, Tsonga or Ferrer losing yet another important match to Djokovic or Nadal or Federer or Murray because they refused to try anything new.

Having demonstrated that his wimpish economic strategy has failed to improve anything whatsoever, why wouldn’t Osborne try out the alternative strategy that many on the right of his party have been urging him to adopt? Yes, that’s right – tax cuts to encourage more economic activity, accompanied by truly spectacular public spending cuts so we can actually start to decrease our national debt rather than remorselessly enlarging it – in other words, a mixture of cunning drop-shots and boldly aiming for the lines.

Why not go down in a blaze of glory with a reputation as a bold economic warrior, rather than as a flabby-faced coward who refused to engage the enemy? As we’ve been discussing the American Civil War quite a lot here recently, why not be a bold, resolute, courageous Robert E. Lee - who tried everything in his power to secure a victory for the Confederacy, and who almost managed to do so against all the odds - rather than a weak, vacillating, hyper-cautious George B. McClellan, whom Lincoln eventually had to replace as commander of the Union army because the man would risk nothing to secure victory for the Union, despite commanding vastly larger and better-armed and provisioned forces?

Lucky for Osborne – and unlucky for the rest of us – that David Cameron is too weak and vacillating to replace his useless general with someone with talent and intestinal fortitude. 

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