Spin: George Osborne is is adopting devious, manipulative tactics to win the EU referendum
George Osborne has a very poor record when judged by his performance as Chancellor. His budgets have been a series of shambles — marked by humiliating U-turns such as being forced to abandon plans for £1.3 billion-a-year cuts in disability benefits and to cancel his so-called ‘pasty tax’ (which would have added VAT to heated takeaway meals).
He has also failed to solve the huge structural problems facing the British economy. Indeed, the most recent statistics suggest we are heading back into recession.
The truth is that Mr Osborne has become distracted from his prime duties at the Treasury, and is frequently absent, I am told, for days at a time.
His main fascination is with political intrigue. This would have made him a very good chief whip or party chairman.
Bored by his responsibilities for Britain’s economy — for which he has been the steward for six years — Mr Osborne is now devoting his energies to ensuring the Government wins its campaign to keep Britain in the European Union.
Characteristically, like his friend and mentor Peter Mandelson, he is not trying to win the political debate by using straight, honest argument. Instead, he is adopting devious, manipulative tactics.
In a gross abuse of public office, the Chancellor is channelling the resources of the supposedly neutral government machine into a partisan campaign to keep Britain inside the EU.
One example is the notorious pro-EU pamphlet — produced at a cost of at least £9 million to the taxpayer — sent to every household in Britain a few weeks ago.
Teams of publicly funded civil servants are being moved from normal duties to get involved in the supply and distribution of pro-Brussels ‘Project Fear’ propaganda.
For example, Antony Phillipson, a very capable but fanatically pro-EU official who used to work as private secretary to Mandelson, is running the European unit at the Cabinet Office. I am told that Mr Phillipson retains his links with Mandelson and acts as a bridge between Tory and Labour wings of the pro-EU campaign.
Most shamefully, Remain campaigners have hijacked the whole Establishment machine — even worse than in 1975 when Labour PM Harold Wilson held a referendum on Britain’s membership of the then Common Market.
Disgracefully complicit have been Mr Osborne’s officials at the Treasury.
Mandarin: Sir Jeremy Heywood, pictured with David Cameron is supposed to ensure the integrity of the civil service
This traditionally neutral and fastidious organisation has been suborned into producing a farcically biased and one-sided document claiming that British families would be £4,300 a year worse off in the event of Brexit.
The fact these abuses have been allowed reflects extremely poorly on Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood — ‘Sir Cover-Up’ — whose job is to ensure civil service integrity.
Not content with destroying the traditional probity of the Civil Service, Mr Osborne has inveigled the ostensibly independent Bank of England into being a cheerleader for his pro-EU campaign.
Having railroaded through the appointment of Mark Carney (a politically ambitious Canadian) as Governor, the Chancellor has encouraged this puppet in Threadneedle Street to spout pro-Brussels propaganda.
On Thursday, Carney did Osborne a blatant political favour by claiming that Brexit would cause Britain to sink into recession.
(If Carney had been attending to his duties as Governor, he might have noticed that we are heading in that direction anyway!)
Divisive: Nigel Farage is the only anti-EU politician to be debating David Cameron head to head
The Bank of England (like the Monarchy) has historically been above politics, and for the same excellent reasons: it needs to remain above the fray in order to work with governments of any colour.
This, however, is not the end of Mr Osborne’s shabby behind-the-scenes and undemocratic meddling. He has also enlisted international figures who, protocol normally demands, don’t interfere in British domestic politics.
Yesterday, Christine Lagarde, the French director of the International Monetary Fund, warned that Brexit could be ‘very, very bad’ for the British economy — despite the fact her organisation’s predictions on said economy have proved risibly wrong in the past.
The fact is Mr Osborne has exploited every conceivable diplomatic, economic and political ruse to try to make sure the case for Europe is heard.
Outrageously, heavy and persistent pressure has also been brought to bear on the broadcast media, culminating in ITV’s disturbing cave-in to Government bully-boys.
The supposedly independent broadcaster has disgracefully allowed Downing Street to dictate which representative of the Leave lobby goes head-to-head with David Cameron in a TV debate on the EU referendum. Wary of having to confront — and being outshone by — Boris Johnson or Michael Gove, the PM only agreed to appear on the programme with Ukip leader Nigel Farage — a man he feels he can out-argue and who is not universally liked by all sections of the Brexit campaign.
The decision about who should appear in a TV encounter with the Prime Minister should have been made by Vote Leave, the officially designated voice of the anti-EU campaign. It should not have been made under influence from No 10.
Indeed, Vote Leave officials did not want to put up Mr Farage for exactly the same reason that Downing Street was so keen to have him: he is a divisive figure.
Not only has ITV — whose chairman until Thursday was former Tory MP Archie Norman — allowed Mr Cameron to pick his opponent, it also allowed him to dictate the terms of the debate. As a result, Cameron and Farage will speak separately rather than engage in spontaneous argument.
How utterly dishonourable that ITV has agreed to this sterile, anti-democratic, manipulated format.
Yesterday, its CEO revealed a possible commercial motive behind this pathetic kowtowing.
He told media magazine Campaign that the prospect of leaving the EU had led to advertisers reducing bookings and that it was not clear if such money would return immediately if Britain votes to stay in Europe.
Such a self-serving excuse is no reason for ITV to abandon its reputation for independence and to betray its viewers.
Perhaps it was no coincidence that George Osborne agreed to be a guest on Robert Peston’s debut political show on ITV last Sunday morning. How sickeningly cosy!
All this leads me to believe that this week marked a pivotal point in the referendum debate. It has now turned into a rigged contest.
Terrified of taking any risks, the Government has decided to try to fix the result by manipulating data, corrupting independent institutions and browbeating broadcasters.
Such shoddy tactics may, however, backfire. Voters will quickly realise they are transparently cowardly and unprincipled. Next month’s referendum was meant to settle the European question once and for all. But it cannot do so if George Osborne and his henchmen cheat and bully.
If they win by using such methods, it will be an illegitimate victory.
Cameron’s Oxford chum cannot dodge Tory spending row
Doomed: Lord Feldman is set to be sacked by David Cameron after the EU referendum
A Cabinet reshuffle is expected soon after the referendum result and it’s already clear that David Cameron (if he is still the PM) will have to sack Conservative Party chairman Andrew Feldman.
His old Oxford University chum has been, by several leagues, the most incompetent chairman since the post was created shortly before the First World War.
Under Lord Feldman’s stewardship, party membership has almost halved, and the party organisation has been mired in scandal over allegedly breaking election expenditure rules, following an investigation by the Daily Mail and Channel Four.
Feldman himself has been unwilling to perform one fundamental part of his job, which is to speak for the party to the media.
Indeed, the unelected Cameron crony has given only two interviews during his six years in the post, both unplanned.
The first came when, after a late-night dinner, he paused to shoot the breeze with nearby journalists and took the opportunity to denounce Tory activists (the very people he is supposed to represent) as ‘swivel-eyed loons’. His second encounter came when he was chased down a Westminster street by the formidable Channel 4 correspondent Michael Crick, who rightly wanted answers about the growing Tory election expenses scandal.
Feldman dodged the questions. But he can’t do so for much longer.
Yesterday, it emerged the Electoral Commission has taken the extraordinary step of applying to the High Court for a disclosure order following the failure of Tory officials to hand over key documents concerning election spending. Meanwhile, Lincolnshire police has become the tenth force to examine apparent Tory election irregularities.
So far, I have been one of only a handful of journalists to write about this story. Yet I predict it will soon become a massive scandal.
It is looking increasingly as if Feldman has lost control of Tory HQ and now is embroiled in an embarrassing criminal investigation amid allegations that the party may have ‘bought’ its election victory last year.
If Feldman can’t answer questions about this scandal, the Prime Minister must replace him with someone who can.