The Great Debate UK
At 1:30pm British time on Wednesday, October 21, Reuters is hosting an exclusive Web 2.0 interview with Darling and we want you to send us your questions to put to the top man from the Treasury.
From the crippling global recession to the debate over bankers’ bonuses, it has been a tumultuous year at Number 11 Downing Street. You may want to quiz the Chancellor on one of these topics, ask him about the government’s plans to prevent another downturn or how Labour plan to defy the polls and win the upcoming general election.
During the interview we will put as many of your questions as possible to the Chancellor and will be running a liveblog of the event, much like we did during this social media interview with Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.
Chancellor Alastair Darling has ignored the first rule of holes: if you’re in one, stop digging. He could have produced a few motherhood-and-apple pie reforms of the banking system, to give the impression of activity. Instead, he has dug in, proposing an upgrade of Britain’s failed “tripartite” system of regulation.
LONDON, April 23 (Reuters) – The UK Government needs to raise four billion pounds a week, every week, in the financial year to next April, to bridge the gap between its tax income and its spending.
LONDON, April 22 (Reuters) – The Treasury is the UK government’s finance ministry. There are many other government departments, but in the years since 1997, all have been turned into subsidiaries of the Treasury, the power base of Prime Minister Gordon Brown when he was chancellor.
His ambition was to micro-manage in every one of them. Today we saw the true cost of this disastrous experiment. All major countries have serious problems with their government deficits, but the most entrenched of Britain’s are home-made.
Britain’s public finances, which had been deteriorating for years, are wrecked. Even on his successor’s rose-tinted projections, they will not return to a balanced Budget for at least the next nine years.
Given that no Treasury projection for more than three or four years out bears any resemblance to reality, and given the there will have been at least two elections between now and then, this is a post-dated cheque drawn on the Bank of Fantasy.
Alistair Darling has learned at the feet of the master of obfuscation, double counting and footling detail. So we heard all about the green recovery, from a government that sees no contradiction between raising the cost of fuel and granting tax concessions to North Sea explorers. There may be more oil there, but for the state, this is now a dry well.
The Chancellor did not dare say what he and his advisers really think about the green-tinted scheme wished on them by Peter Mandelson, the Trade Secretary, to scrap your old banger for 2,000 pounds towards a new one.
At least they managed to limit the damage to a single year. If your car is not 10 years old by next March, it will be junked in the ordinary way.
Junk is what the last Treasury forecast has now become. It’s barely five months since Darling’s last emergency package. It looked like a work of fiction then, and now there’s no doubt. In his Budget a year ago, he was expecting to borrow 43 billion pounds in 2008/09, crowing that the previous peak was much higher, at 7.8 percent of gross national product. The sum would come down after that.
By November, there was no crowing. The projected borrowing requirement was 78 billion pounds, and was going up, to 118 billion in the following year, not down. Even those horrible figures have now been left far behind. Last year he needed 90 billion pounds, and in 2009/10, he says, it will be 175 billion pounds, or 12.4 percent of GNP.
The forecast is then for a fall, although not by much. In 2010/11 he – or his successor – will still be 173 billion pounds short of balancing the books.
So in three years the government will have borrowed 5,600 pounds for every man, woman and child in the country. That’s over 20,000 pounds for what the prime minister routinely calls the average hard-working family.
In any business, from a corner shop to a multi-national, this arithmetic would be immediately fatal to those who had put it forward. Their credit would be ruined, and the business’s credit could not be restored while they were still in charge.
Britain’s credit is ultimately expressed in the external value of sterling, as Brown himself has said. The pound has already been devalued informally by a greater amount than the two previous formal devaluations in 1967 and 1992.
The short-term effects have been mostly benign, but the possibility of a flight from the currency is always there. This Budget makes it a little more likely.
In this context, everything else is detail. The biggest detail is the attack on what Darling describes as “those who gained the most”. This is a sop to his fractious party in parliament.
From next April anyone earning over 150,000 pounds a year will be paying 51.5 percent on every extra pound earned, the highest rate in Britain for 21 years. They will also lose their tax-free allowances and half the tax relief on their pension contributions.
The small print betrays that the government is relying on these measures to bring in 7 billion a year, sometime in the middle distance. This looks as unconvincing a forecast as any in Darling’s portfolio. Well-paid labour is highly mobile nowadays, and will go where the prospects are high and the taxes low.
Nothing else in the 250 pages of the Budget Report is worth a row of green beans. Even the Treasury can’t put a price on the measure to reduce VAT on children’s car seat bases.
Despite its name, “enhanced capital allowances” will actually raise more money — 10 million pounds, or enough to run the government machine for about eight minutes.
Thrashing around for something cheerful to say, Darling kept telling us how much worse off other people were. To assert that “we and other countries have been battling against a succession of shocks which have hit the world economy” suggests that our luckless planet had crossed orbits with a large economic meteorite.
The former chancellor, now prime minister, assumed the sun would shine forever, and that he had somehow managed to suspend the usual rules of economics — or as he himself put it, “no more boom and bust.” In recent years, he produced growth by borrowing, pouring the money into the public services for ever-decreasing returns.
Each time he borrowed more than he had forecast. Now the bill has arrived, and it’s plain that neither he nor his successor has the slightest idea of what to do. Marc Ostwald of Monument Securities summed it up within minutes: “a Budget of tinkering with the public sector financial sector meltdown, with no substance or obvious strategy whatsoever.”
One day the Treasury will remember how to mind its own business, under a chancellor who grasps that until the public finances are put in order, nothing else will go right. The longer the wait, the worse will be the reckoning.
from The Great Debate:
Goldman Sachs wants to do its duty by the American people and give them their TARP money back. Some spoilsports have urged the government simply to say no because allowing the investment bank to repay the cash would make other banks look bad.
But this seems rather un-American. Why shouldn't taxpayers get their money back if Goldman really doesn't need it? The point to insist upon is that they get all of it back -- and on commercial terms.
– Neil Collins is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –
Quantitative easing is like drinking. Nothing much seems to happen at first, so you take a little more. As the warm alcoholic glow spreads over you, it feels pretty good, and surely another glass will make you feel even better. Stop soon enough, before you start feeling woozy, and there are no ill effects. Go on until you can’t stand, and the effects can be disastrous.
from The Great Debate:
Treasury Secretary Geithner is all but admitting that U.S. banks are suffering not from market failure but self-inflicted collateral damage.
The U.S. Treasury on Monday detailed an up to $1 trillion plan to buy up assets from banks in partnership with private investors, using financing bankrolled by the government, financing that is only secured by the value of the doubtful assets the fund buys.
from The Great Debate:
For every new president, campaign promises and inaugural idealism must give way to the hard choices that measure the mettle of their leadership.