Monday, 23 March 2015

Ask the Chancellors

I can't imagine this attracted a large audience live on a Monday afternoon, but, of course, what matters is how it is 'spun' in late news programmes. I thought each slot was going to last an hour, but in fact it was half an hour and George Osborne was cut off in mid flow by a commercial. The use of boom mikes did affect the sound quality sometimes. I thought that the young woman who asked George Osborne a question about zero hour contracts said she came from Greenwich, but George Osborne seemed to think she came from the Midlands. To me, she had a London accent.

The audience seemed to be predominantly made of small business entrepreneurs and this meant that Ed Balls seemed to get a rougher ride, but I thought that he acquitted himself quite well. He had two (tougher) questions from social media and George Osborne had one. At the beginning, Ed Balls seemed to fall into his old trap of seeming to bluster, but became more convincing as time went on, particularly on the question of Europe.

George Osborne gave a smooth and confident performance, reiterating his basic messages although there is a risk that he can seem complacent. He was most put under pressure by the young woman student on zero hours contracts. It is not the case the majority of jobs take that form, but they do particularly affect the young, women and some older people. Ed Balls acknowledged that they perform a useful function for some, but felt that some employers had pushed them too far.

What struck me was that throughout both interviews, no questioner nor either respondent referred to the most fundamental structural problem facing the British economy: low rates of productivity. Neither really had a good answer on getting more houses built. Ed Balls was under some pressure on the mansion tax, but managed to put up a defence, although it isn't going to raise enough revenue to provide more doctors and nurses (the issues there aren't just financial anyway).

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