Political column – October 29

Do you consistently get things wrong? Do you regularly get taken by surprise by this or that development in your field of alleged expertise?

If so, a career as a top economist or financial analyst could await you, because economics is the I-wasn't-expecting-that industry.

You can top up your income by being invited on to television and radio news programmes to confidently get things wrong to a wider audience.

Now I'm not saying that economists and financial analysts are not experts. They are. They have wonderful ability doing the sums, and in creating financial models in which if such and such goes up, such and such goes down, and if you factor X in, you know you will get Y result.

But when it comes to forecasting, they can be judged by their record, which for accuracy lies somewhere between astrology and long range meteorology. How many economists forecast the financial crash of 2008?

Jeremy Hunt has altered the date of his much-vaunted autumn statement so that it can include the Office for Budget Responsibility's economic forecast, a case of delay to have the opportunity of including wrong information.

Oh don't be silly you say, the OBR are experts and their forecasts are never wrong. Au contraire, there is a case for saying that economic forecasts, even from such august and respected bodies, are hardly ever right.

I do have a body of evidence to support this. Consider the following exhibits:

October 19: "Prices in the UK continued to surge in September as inflation beat expectation to hit 10.1 per cent."

October 12: "Economic growth fell unexpectedly in August."

September 30: "Statistics released by the Office For National Statistics reveal that the British economy grew during the second financial quarter of the year, contrary to the first readings of the economic figures which showed it shrank."

September 21: "The UK borrowed more than expected in August..."

September 12: "Growth in the UK in July was slower than analysts had expected."

August 19: "Britain borrowed more than expected in July... far above the most recent forecast by the government's fiscal watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility."

August 12: "The UK economy contracted by less than expected in the second quarter of the year..."

And, going back a bit further, we have these, which are, you understand, just samples.

May 12: "The British economy enlarged by 0.8 per cent in the first quarter of this year, lower than the expected one per cent growth."

February 11: "The UK economy shrank less than expected in December..."

Same theme in 2021. Here's a snippet from March that year: "The UK economy shrank less than expected during a coronavirus lockdown in January... much smaller than the 4.9 per cent contraction that economists had forecast..."

You see? The reality was repeatedly a tale of the unexpected.

Meanwhile, you will have noticed that the UK has a new Prime Minister.

Rishi Sunak has hit the ground running. Mmm, where have we heard that phrase before? Oh yes, it was when Liz Truss launched her fatal "growth, growth, growth" mini-Budget.

Rishi does though look more like the part. His early performance has gone down so well with Tory MPs that we can be reasonably confident that he will be among the longest-serving Prime Ministers of 2022.

Tory spirits have palpably been lifted. By and large they have brushed aside some potentially stored-up troubles, like the fact that in one of his first actions he appointed, or rather reappointed, somebody to the Home Office who has proven to be a security risk.

Rishi is also very rich. So is his wife. In America, that would not be a problem for a politician. But in Britain there are many who do not admire great wealth, they despise it. It's a free card for Labour to play as ordinary folk struggle during the cost of living crisis.

During the pandemic he was, as Chancellor, Mr Generous. But his spending then has left dark shadows from those financial chickens preparing to come home to roost.

There are rumours that Jeremy Hunt could be planning percentage cuts in public spending running into double figures. How happy will Tory MPs fearing for their seats be then?

I don't know if Liz, Boris, and Theresa will have offered Rishi any advice. But if they did it might be this – enjoy your honeymoon period, then watch your back.

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