My Lords, I want to discuss the political and policy judgments that have been made since the financial crisis. The previous Chancellor, my right honourable friend Alistair Darling, like everyone else, did not see the 2007-08 banking crisis coming, nor the damage that it would do to our public finances, but in the eye of the financial storm, he did an excellent job of judging what needed to be done. He organised the huge recapitalisation of the banks. He sought to find the most effective balance between policies to repair the public finances and reduce public debt and also to promote growth. He recognised that the UK's ability to finance its ballooning deficit would require the support of the bond markets, which would need to be convinced that the Government were prepared to take the tough and correct measures to achieve those joint objectives. He rightly anticipated that external events might call for additional rebalancing of the policy mix, over and above the deployment of automatic stabilisers. His was a pragmatic and thoughtful response to an unprecedented crisis, and it commanded broad support at home and abroad.
What happened next? One of the present Chancellor's first and very important decisions on coming into office was to ratchet up the austerity targets and to shun the flexible, carefully nuanced approach of his predecessor and instead opt to wear a very tight financial straitjacket. That approach, which we now know as plan A, was given intellectual credibility by a report from US economists Rogoff and Reinhard, which Osborne cited in a speech as,
"Perhaps the most significant contribution to our understanding of the origins of the financial crisis".
Buoyed by that report and the plaudits from the hedge funds and bond investors in the city and, crucially, strong backing from the IMF, the Chancellor believed that he had struck exactly the right policy balance between austerity and growth which would lead to the elimination of the structural deficit by 2014-15. Crucial to that judgment was the forecast of strengthening economic growth over that period.
As we have heard from all sides of the House today, that has not come to pass. Indeed, recent employment, bank lending, government borrowing and GDP numbers all confirm that the economy is flatlining. The UK is now the worst performing major economy. As the UK's performance has weakened, as each forecast is missed and as austerity measures are tightened and extended, confidence-an ingredient vital to economic growth- has evaporated. Domestic consumer spending is depressed, export performance has fallen well short of forecast and companies continue to defer investment projects. Rating agencies downgrade the UK, citing a weaker economic and fiscal outlook and, specifically, the lack of growth.
The high priest of the international bond market, a group that I am sure is high on the Chancellor's Christmas card list, Bill Gross of PIMCO, the world's largest bond investor, declared last week that,
"the UK ... have erred in terms of believing that ... fiscal austerity ... is the way to produce real growth. It is not. You've got to spend money. Bond investors want growth".
The intellectual prop of Rogoff and Reinhard turns out to be a shoddy piece of research from the "garbage in, garbage out" school of analysis, with the corrected model-