George Osborne is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which means he is the head of the treasury, and by extension the second most powerful person in government. In spite of the fact that he is only an MP, and of an incredibly safe Conservative constituency, he yields considerably more influence than Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister.
If Cameron fails to secure a conservative government in the upcoming election he will almost certainly make a bid for party leadership. As part of the election campaign, he recently appeared on the popular Andrew Marr show:
As part of the interview, Andrew raised the issue of how he [George] was going to fund proposed NHS spending increases of some £8Bn. What happened next was quite extraordinary and spent the next day or two achieving viral status on social media. Harking back to the infamous Paxman .vs. Howard interview, Osborne proceeded to obfuscate the question with a series of platitudes. Marr asked the question a further 17 times, each time receiving another non-response.
Now, whether you like him or not, it’s a given that Osborne, an Oxford scholarship graduate, is an intelligent man. It’s inconceivable to me that he would have forgotten how the funding increase was to be funded. I also seriously doubt that the Conservative party would unveil a policy that simply hadn’t been costed. With this in mind, I’m led to ask what was he so afraid of telling us? Government’s fight tooth and nail for department and project funding, so it seems unlikely that the money for the funding increase was to come from the preexisting pot. Like most initiatives, any rise for the NHS would have to be payed for with taxation.
Taxation is the third rail of British politics. It is a necessary evil. Depending on who you side with, the questions are how necessary and how evil. I suspect George Osborne was told by his PR team that he would lose less political capital by running around the question than by honestly answering it. This is both absurd and entirely comprehensible. The one day fallout on social media is likely inconsiderable next to the possibility of associating the Conservatives with increased taxation, which would undermine their entire party platform. This all links back to a wider problem.
Politicians, particularly during election season, are massively scrutinised by the media. Any slight slip-up will be jumped on, spun by the media as a story, and capitalised on by the opposition. Ed Miliband is the classic example of this. I’m still waiting for a coherent explanation as to why how he consumes a Bacon sandwich is pertinent to his ability to lead the country (ditto his jogging and now of the other insignificant mannerisms the public associates him with). My argument can be boiled down to this: if we want our politicians to talk to us honestly, we have to be able to do two things: look past their personal idiosyncrasies and extend our attention span.
George Osborne and his PR advisors know that the public will only hear taxation rise if they start talking about the NHS, rather than hear the whole argument. Sound bites and Twitter news cycles are destroying politician’s ability to communicate with us. The general election is going to be over soon. Someone will win and others will lose. And as a Nation we will have lost out because we never truly listened. We never gave pause for thought, never took the time to examine what they were actually seeing. You can’t set out an ideology with a 24Hr news cycle, let alone a 24 second one.