Danny Alexander, George Osborne and who ‘commissioned’ welfare cuts proposals – an object lesson in how to be economical with the actualité

I just heard Mr. George Osborne once again peddling his line that the documents revealed by his former Treasury buddy Danny Alexander were in fact “commissioned by the Chief Secretary himself”. This make it sound like Alexander was actually responsible for the proposals for draconian welfare cuts which he says came from Tories. It has worked enough to be repeated by plenty of journalists.

The truth is in all probability rather different. Normal practice in spending rounds – annual budget preparations and Spending Reviews – for the Chief Secretary to circulate to all spending Ministries asking them to come up with a menu of spending, cuts options and efficiency savings.

It is the responsibility of the Ministries themselves – in this case Department of Work and Pensions run by Iain Duncan Smith – to come up with proposals, which is precisely what seems to have happened here. So the proposals for welfare cuts came from a Tory Secretary of State, not the Liberal Democrat Danny Alexander.

All the proposals would have been collated into a discussion document – in this case it seems to have been for the “Quad” (PM, DPM, Chancellor and Chief Sec). So this is the extent to which Danny Alexander could be said to have ‘commissioned’ the proposals and to imply they were somehow policy ideas he had asked to be looked at is at best misleading and at worst downright deception.

As is all too often the case, ‘insiders’ like Mr Osborne rely on the ignorance of some journalists and the public about the inner workings of Whitehall to duck and dive around problematic issues.

By the way, Mr Osborne et al have also issued a classic “non-denial denial”: they never supported these plans and never would. Which is of course not a denial that they would ever support something remarkably similar but not exactly the same.

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