Who’s George Osborne Trying to Kid?

Author: Ben Kench

George Osborne says he isn’t interested in what’s easy, only what’s right.

But who in their right mind would sell off an asset for 13bn less than they paid for it?

As he never tires of telling us, it was Labour who bought into Royal Bank of Scotland, paying £45bn to bail out what was then the biggest banking group in the world. But it’s the Tories who propose selling it for £32bn…it’s lucky for George Osborne that he’s got a steady job in politics, because he stinks as a wheeler-dealer.

£13bn is enough money to build a Hadron Collider and a Hubble Telescope – with half a billion change to buy a Champions League football club. It’s also roughly the amount of austerity savings proposed in 2015. That 13bn could protect public services for vulnerable people. So why not just put RBS on the market for £45bn, break even and wash our hands of it?

Because that would be bad for the economy, Osborne says: “Yes, we may get a lower price than Labour paid for it but the longer we wait, the higher the price the economy will pay.”

But is selling it cheap doing the economy good? It’s not like there’ll be massive tax revenues gushing back into the coffers. Banks use every tax-avoidance trick in the book. All strictly legal, of course – but that’s another story.

What I’d like to see George Osborne do is open with us, the poor burdened taxpayers.

He could say: “nobody realised just how hooky the whole RBS operation was, it owes billions of pounds in malpractice fines and there’s every chance more of them will come out the woodwork as other EU investigations gather pace. We don’t want to be associated with that, so we can maintain the political high ground and spin it as a Labour problem that the Lib Dems stopped us fixing.”

If he wants to be really honest, he might say: “Nobody really fancies buying RBS right now. It also could take years to sell. I need it sold on my watch, so I’m starting now. I’m doing it cheap so it looks a bargain to my old mates in The City. Tidy little discount, take the edge of what could be a ticking time bomb. The money will find its way back to me through Tory party campaign donations anyway. Jolly good.”

Or maybe, ‘lovely jubbly.’ This whole deal’s got a whiff of Del Boy fly-pitching out of a suitcase before the coppers turn up to me.

But what do I know? I’m just an old cynic who reads too much. Anyway better go, I’ve got some one-legged turkeys I need to shift. Yours for a fiver, squire.

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