It’s always tempting to over-elaborate the explanations for political events. Sometimes there are wheels within wheels, of course, but generally most analysis could do with more of Occam’s Razor and less X-Files paranoia.
Take the leaked forecasts this week. Speculation has now moved beyond the identity of the leaker to ask: who drove the creation and production of the report?
A variety of theories abound, with varying degrees of complexity and plausibility, but by far the most likely answer is a rather boring one: the Treasury.
After all, the Treasury employs the largest concentration of people who could produce such a document, practically speaking. And it’s the Treasury which normally produces such forecasts on a whole range of different issues as part of its routine work. Furthermore, it’s the Treasury which has produced exactly these kind of forecasts on this topic before – and it was the Treasury’s previous forecasts on leaving the EU which took essentially the same extremely pessimistic view before the referendum.
Then there’s a further question: why would such a report as this be produced?
Again, before indulging overly complex conspiracy theory, maybe we should look to the straightforward explanation: that this is just what parts of Whitehall, and particularly the Treasury, do if left to their own devices.
As I wrote earlier in the week, the report is unlikely to change many minds, but its flaws are not unusual. The overly ambitious attempt to make a 15-year forecast; the insistence on making such predictions despite even short-term forecasts on the same topic being routinely wrong; the inherent pessimism of the forecasters about leaving the EU…all of this is something we have seen before, and none of it requires some sort of “deep state” cabal to design.
A more interesting question, given all that, is what would have been required for such a report not to have been produced.
There’s some precedent on this front – during the Brown years, there were repeated calls (not least from Eurosceptic peers) for the Treasury to produce a cost/benefit analysis of Single Market membership. The then-Chancellor opposed such an analysis being carried out, and he therefore simply refused to allow it.
Indeed, at one time part of the Treasury started to produce one on its own initiative, as part of their routine work. Brown – a proactive Chancellor who viewed that project as politically unhelpful – got wind of it and squashed their plans. That evidently didn’t happen this time round.