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By Peter Hoskin
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Just
as this grey Friday afternoon was slumping into the weekend, Robert Chote has
written a letter to David Cameron that has electrified everyone again. I’ve
pasted a copy of that letter to the bottom of this post, but the basic point is
that the head of the Office for Budget Responsibility took issue with one of
the lines in Mr Cameron’s speech yesterday. The Prime Minister claimed that the
OBR itself was “absolutely clear that the deficit reduction plan is not
responsible” for depressed growth – whereas, as Mr Chote points out, the organisation
actually reckons that “tax increases and spending cuts reduce economic growth
in the short term”.

The
OBR has been criticised recently for its inaccurate forecasts, including for
the revenue that might be raised from the 4G auction. Yet I think much of this criticism
misses the point. I won’t reheat all the points that I made in a post
defending the OBR
– and not just because I only made them a couple of weeks
ago, but also because this letter stands as a defence in itself. George Osborne
established this independent body to remove political scheming and calculation
from the construction of the public finances. It’s not there to make life easy
for politicians. It’s there to crunch numbers free from the will of Downing
Street and the Treasury.


Of
course, this letter is rather unusual example of the OBR’s independence – it’s
not specifically their role to fact-check the Prime Minister’s speeches, and
they’ve only done so in this case because their own work had been
misinterpreted – but it’s a good example nonetheless. Mr Cameron may have been
stung in this case (although not too badly, particularly given the last couple
of paragraphs), but it will be other Prime Ministers and other Chancellors in
future. The OBR makes it harder for politicians to lie, obfuscate or misspeak.
If only it had existed to counter the deceits of the Gordon Brown years – deceits
that Ed Balls seems to have conveniently forgotten, as he gloats his
way around Twitter
this afternoon.

Anyway,
good job, Robert Chote. Hopefully Mr Cameron will be more accurate in future.

Here’s
the letter in two pages (click for a larger version):

Page 1 Page 2

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