Budget 2016: magical thinking from charmed world of the chancellor | Jonathan Freedland

It’s not just the economic forecasting that makes George Osborne’s budget read like a work of magical realism, it’s his own record

A George Osborne budget has become an exercise in magical thinking. The chancellor comes to the despatch box, his face stern and manner sober, to present a vision of the economic and fiscal future comprised of nothing more solid than a series of heroic assumptions, hypothetical figures and feats of creative accountancy – all anchored in the shifting, hopeful sands of forecast and projection.

He probably got away with it once more on Wednesday, delivering his eighth such address. But the task was harder this time. Usually he can rely on at least half his audience to be wholly supportive, willingly suspending their disbelief, cheering at the fictional numbers they like, looking past the notional figures they don’t. But this time he could not take all those on the Conservative benches behind him for granted. Half oppose him on the question that animates them more than any other and which loomed over the budget: the 23 June referendum on Britain’s place in the European Union.

Related: Bluff king George? Osborne's budget was a lesson in sleight of hand

Related: George Osborne uses budget to convince Tories of his leadership qualities

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Budget 2016: magical thinking from charmed world of the chancellor | Jonathan Freedland

It’s not just the economic forecasting that makes George Osborne’s budget read like a work of magical realism, it’s his own record

A George Osborne budget has become an exercise in magical thinking. The chancellor comes to the despatch box, his face stern and manner sober, to present a vision of the economic and fiscal future comprised of nothing more solid than a series of heroic assumptions, hypothetical figures and feats of creative accountancy – all anchored in the shifting, hopeful sands of forecast and projection.

He probably got away with it once more on Wednesday, delivering his eighth such address. But the task was harder this time. Usually he can rely on at least half his audience to be wholly supportive, willingly suspending their disbelief, cheering at the fictional numbers they like, looking past the notional figures they don’t. But this time he could not take all those on the Conservative benches behind him for granted. Half oppose him on the question that animates them more than any other and which loomed over yesterday’s budget: the 23 June referendum on Britain’s place in the European Union.

Related: Bluff king George? Osborne's budget was a lesson in sleight of hand

Related: George Osborne uses budget to convince Tories of his leadership qualities

Continue reading...

Brexit: the Queen is a powerful asset, but she is being exploited | Jonathan Freedland

She’s the human link to Britain’s finest hour. No wonder the Eurosceptic press find her irresistible and are desperate to prove that she’s on their side

Perhaps you recall the fabled words of the unnamed US officer in the Vietnam war who ruefully said of the place American forces had just razed to the ground, “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” The line lives on, a permanent reminder of how a mission pursued with blind zeal can end up defeating its own purpose, choking to death the very thing it claims to love.

This week’s Sun front page claiming “Queen backs Brexit” may lack comparably tragic grandeur, but the same self-defeating logic hovers over it. Whoever was behind the story was clearly as devoted to rescuing Britain from the clutches of Brussels as that anonymous US army major was committed to wresting the village of Ben Tre from the Vietcong. It’s a safe assumption that the source was motivated by the Brexiteers’ devout hope that Britain can be restored to its pre-1973 shape, when sovereignty lingered exclusively in the ether between Buckingham Palace and the Palace of Westminster – “the crown in parliament” is the conventional formulation – and nowhere near Brussels.

Related: The Queen versus the Sun - will Ipso back the paper's source?

The Queen has retained the public’s trust while all around her have lost it

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The Republicans created Donald Trump: no wonder they can’t stop him

Defeating the party strongman means addressing the three causes of the anger that fuels his success. Only Hillary Clinton can do that

At last, the Republican establishment is engaged in a project the entire world can get behind: the campaign to stop Donald Trump. They’ve left it desperately late, but a collective effort is finally under way to prevent the would-be strongman – who boasts of his admiration for Vladimir Putin and insists he will order US soldiers to commit war crimes, torturing prisoners and killing the innocent families of terrorists – from becoming their party’s standard-bearer in November.

The trouble is, nothing seems to work. In fact, it’s worse than that. Trump is coming to resemble a character from a comic-book: not only do bullets bounce off him, they make him stronger. On Thursday, his enemies mounted a double assault. In a move without precedent, the party’s previous nominee – 2012 candidate Mitt Romney – gave a speech that declared this year’s frontrunner unfit to be president. In a more damning indictment than he ever unleashed against Barack Obama, Romney branded Trump a phoney, a fraud, a bankrupt and a misogynist.

Rule-breaking defiance is central to Trump's appeal – nothing in the conventional armoury will work

Related: 'Winning, winning, winning': the genius of The Donald’s Trumpspeak

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Vote in our mortal interest

It may sound like a healthy, bran-based breakfast cereal but Brexit is going to be dominating the national conversation between now and June 23. A moment that's been coming for at least two decades, and maybe much longer, is finally here: Britain will decide its place in the European Union, in or out.

There'll be no Jewish vote to speak of: Jews will divide on the same lines as everyone else, some persuaded by the economic issues, some by security, some by fear of the unknown. There'll be Jews for Out, like the former Conservative party leader Michael Howard, and Jews for In like the Conservative MP and minister, Robert Halfon.

And yet I was not surprised to see that of the JC's panel of six rabbis last week, four were for Remain and not one was for Leave (two were undecided). I suspect that, among those Jews who follow a Jewish gut instinct on this question, their gut will be telling them to stay. And, in this, the legacy of the Second World War will be inescapable.

True, plenty of Outers build their case on the last war. Nigel Farage frequently invokes the 1940 notion of a free Britain standing valiantly against the totalitarian tendencies of the continent. I can see how the supposed threat of a European superstate sends a shiver down Jewish spines especially. Recall the 1990 declaration by Margaret Thatcher's cabinet colleague, Nicholas Ridley, that, "This is all a German racket designed to take over the whole of Europe." Plenty of Jews would have heard that and been ready to vote Out there and then.

But the Brexiteers do not have the monopoly on wartime memories. You can be equally mindful of history and draw the opposite conclusion. You can note the tendency of the peoples of Europe to murder each other in the bloodiest kinds of war over several centuries - the Hundred Years War, the Thirty Years War, the Franco-Prussian War, two world wars in the last century - and conclude that this is what, unchecked, Europe's nations do to each other.

And yet for the past 60 or so years, the major nations of Europe have not fought each other. Those within what is now the European Union have instead traded together, in peace and prosperity. Some might say that's a coincidence, that even without the EU, Germany and France would not possibly have taken up arms against each other. But surely the more rational view is that the existence of the EU can claim some credit for this outbreak of relative tranquillity. Disputes that would once have been settled by lethal combat have instead been resolved through all-night meetings in Brussels. I know which I'd prefer.

Jews have a mortal interest in all this. War in Europe brings desperate suffering to everyone, of course, but it has inflicted a very particular pain on Jews. For all its huge flaws – and the EU is a clunky, often dysfunctional entity currently tested to its very limits by migration and the strains of a single currency - the notion of cohering Europe's nations into a single market rather than having them fighting each other to the death has been a good thing. Maybe even a life-saver.

With a dangerous, toxic populism on the rise on both sides of the Atlantic, and with an anti-immigration, anti-outsider mood spreading, Jews would surely want to strengthen, not weaken, an organisation that demands democracy and respect for the human rights of its members - one that prefers tedious jaw-jaw to murderous war-war. For that reason, I hope - and, actually, I expect - that, come June 23, most British Jews will vote to stay in.

Jonathan Freedland is a columnist for the Guardian