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The Cheshire Cat Cabinet

In this new period of majority Tory rule, we seem to have reached a new chapter in our adventures through Wonderland.

In this new period of majority Tory rule, we seem to have reached a new chapter in our adventures through Wonderland.

"When I use a word" Humpty Dumpty once told Alice, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less." These words might have belonged in fiction 150 years ago. Today Humpty Dumpty would probably have a place in the Tory cabinet.

After five years we've become almost immune to Ministers' tendency to stretch the meanings of words and numbers further than was ever thought possible. Leading the pack, of course, has been George Osborne. In his most recent budget in March, we discovered that "household income" didn't mean what we'd previously thought, and nor did "inequality".

Other terms that had always seemed so easy to understand, like "debt", "growth" and even "half", turned out to mean different things too, although of course you could never be quite sure which might be the Tories' favoured definition on any particular day. The Chancellor has ended up looking like a cross between Humpty Dumpty and the Mock Turtle, who taught Alice "the different branches of Arithmetic - Ambition, Distraction, Uglification and Derision."

Going round the Mad Hatter's tea table last week, the Work and Pensions Secretary picked up the Chancellor's baton and ran with it. His beef, of course, was with the child poverty statistics, which were released last week and showed that, after two years of slash-and-burn welfare reform, there are still lots and lots of poor children about. Not as many poor children as we thought, as IDS was none too quick to remind us, but around four million children living in poverty all the same, so still quite a few.

Or so we thought. But the Work and Pensions Secretary has had a brainwave. Looking for an explanation as to why poverty figures have repeatedly failed to vindicate his beliefs about how welfare reform should work, he found his answer in an unlikely place. The persistence of poverty, you see, has nothing to do with low wages, welfare cuts, sanctions, bedroom taxes or anything of that sort. It turns out that the problem is with the figures themselves, not the facts they measure.

That's right; it turns out we've been taken for fools. For all these years we've been duped, by the sinister forces of logic and common sense, into believing that the best way to measure child poverty was ... to count the number of children living in poverty. But the figures the DWP has been collecting for the last five years, by metrics agreed by cross-party consensus only months before IDS took office, weren't producing the results he wanted. So from now on, the Government is going to measure child poverty not by counting the number of poor children, but by counting some other things instead.

What a stroke of genius! If only I'd realised sooner how easy it was to redefine an entire concept, I never would have stood meekly by as David Cameron strode into Downing Street on 8th May. He may have claimed that his party secured a million or two more "votes" than Labour, but since when did we agree that something as important as the outcome of a General Election should be determined by such a crude metric as that?

Now, the Chancellor is due to unveil his new budget next Wednesday. All the signs are that it will send poverty and inequality (the real kind, not the Tory versions) through the roof, taking still more money from the pockets of the working poor. And not to pay down the debt, mind you, but simply to fill the gap he himself has left by cutting the taxes of the wealthiest. We're all in it together, we've been told, but some of us are evidently more in it than others.

Thank goodness I've realised just in time what needs to be done to stop George Osborne in his tracks. All I'll need to do is declare myself Chancellor - I could do it by the click of my fingers - and show up at the despatch box tomorrow with my own budget.

Some of you might, of course, be a bit sceptical about my chances of succeeding. After all, we've always assumed that it was the Prime Minister who had the power to "appoint" members of his cabinet. But all that's got us is five years of completely regressive Tory budgets, so clearly we've been going about the whole process in entirely the wrong way.

Of course, George might be a bit surprised when he shows up at the Treasury tomorrow morning and finds me sitting at his desk. But I'm sure he'll come around once I've explained my impeccable logic to him.

And if he doesn't? Well, he'll just need to try harder. Alice had the same problem at first, telling the Queen that "one can't believe impossible things." To which the Queen replied, channelling the new Tory philosophy, "I daresay you haven't had much practice".

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