Can Peter Phillips be George Osborne?
Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, last week delivered a budget that, in his words, signals the end of austerity. Speaking with a triumphalist tone as he outlined what clearly is a budget intended to win the upcoming elections for the Conservative Party, Osborne declared that the economic sun was shining and that the Tory-led coalition government has started to fix the roof over Britain.
According to Osborne, he was able to call an end to Britain's five-year programme of austerity because of stronger-than-expected economic growth. He told the House of Commons that the austerity programme would cease to exist before the end of the next Parliament because the hard work and sacrifice of British workers had paid off.
By the time Britons go to the polls on May 7, Osborne forecasts that Britain's national debt would have fallen as a proportion of GDP. He noted that the Opposition Labour Party could not credibly invoke Ronald Reagan's famous question and ask whether Britons were better off now than they were five years ago when the Tories formed a governing coalition with the Lib Dems. Osborne asserted that living standards in Britain are higher now than in 2010 and that the answer to the 'better-off-now-than-then' question is a resounding yes.
In his words, the coalition government has skilfully and successfully led Britain through the worst austerity programme in decades and has delivered a better country with better-off people, compared to the mess it inherited after the folding of the Labour government under Gordon Brown's leadership.
This was comeback Britain, the fastest-growing large economy in the world and, if you are to believe George Osborne, the results and numbers of 2015 prove why it was necessary to tighten belts and recalibrate under an austerity programme for five hard years.
As I listened to Osborne drop pledge after pledge, boast after boast, to the extent that the Labour Party members in the Commons had nothing to heckle or rebut, I experienced a mixture of wonderment, envy and hope. As those emotions boiled down, I asked myself some questions. Can Jamaica do like Britain? Can Peter Phillips come to the Parliament one day and tell us that austerity is over? Can he, like Osborne, commit to increasing public spending over a fiscal year?
Can he, like the chancellor of the Exchequer has done with the savings tax, announce a measure that will benefit 95% of all taxpayers? In other words, can Dr Phillips announce a rollback in a tax measure imposed during this IMF-sponsored and - designed austerity programme that all Jamaican taxpayers will greet with glee? Can he, like Osborne has done for first-time home purchasers in Britain, offer $50,000 for every $200,000 that a first-time Jamaican homebuyer saves towards the down payment on a house?
Can Dr Phillips come to the Parliament a year from now and do like Osborne, and announce that the Government is in position to fund a reduction in tertiary education fees? Can he ape his British counterpart and announce in next year's Budget that the Government will be increasing public spending, as a percentage of GDP, through lower interest payments on bonds and proceeds from the privatisation of publicly owned assets?
Can Dr Phillips present his own comeback budget where he announces that all the business taxes generated in a bustling place such as Montego Bay be invested exclusively in improving conditions in that tourist Mecca?
Five years ago, few expected that David Cameron, George Osborne and the leaders of the coalition government could have delivered Britain to this point. Workers throughout the union sacrificed plenty under the austerity programme, with the promise ringing in their ears that better must come. There were times when it seemed impossible.
Osborne was lampooned and his policies described as being like sperm without tails, incapable of fertilising the economic egg of Britain's recovery. But five years after the onset of austerity, Britain is seeing its way. The recovery is tangible. The question is, can Portia and Peter deliver? Can this PNP Government credibly say, in a year or two from now, that Jamaica has, indeed, come back from the dead?
- George Davis is a journalist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.