Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Steady as she goes Budget leaves dividing lines unchanged

A little late due to stuff I won't bore you with...but here's my take on the Budget as published in Saturday's Journal.

Over the past 18 months, throughout the 2010 general election campaign and beyond, the main point at issue in British politics has been the question of how far and how fast to the cut the country's budget deficit.

To begin with, the Tories had the better of that argument, which is essentially why they ended up as the largest single party last May and why we now have a Conservative-led Coalition government.

Because the public blamed Gordon Brown for the scale of the problem, and perceived him as having been in denial over it, the Tories were able to win backing for a much deeper package of cuts than Labour had proposed.

But latterly, doubts have crept in. We may not have ended up in the dreaded double-dip recession, but as anyone running a small or medium-sized business will know, the fabled green shoots of recovery have thus far been very slow to appear.

For all the differences of emphasis between the former Chancellor Alistair Darling and the current Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, Labour's position on the deficit remains essentially unchanged.

It is that cutting too far, too fast, will damage growth – a view that is now starting to be borne out by the actual growth figures as well as in the everyday experiences of people up and down the country.

So the political imperative for Chancellor George Osborne as he delivered his second Budget on Wednesday was clear: to demonstrate that the coalition is not just about cuts, but has a growth strategy too.

In this he was only partially successful, his task being made all the more difficult by the need to announce – less than five minutes into his statement - a downgrading of the economic growth forecasts for 2011 from 2.1pc to 1.7pc.

Labour leader Ed Miliband's obvious glee at this announcement – "every time he comes to this House growth is downgraded" he told MPs - is scarcely misplaced, given the thrust of his party's economic message over the past year.

It is also fair to say that as a 'Budget for Growth,' Wednesday's package was somewhat underwhelming.

Sure, the 1p cut in fuel duty, coupled with the cancellation of the planned 4p rise later this year, will provide a fillip for hard-pressed businesses which have seen their profit-margins eroded by ever-escalating fuel costs, as will the additional 1p cut in Corporation Tax.

And the creation of 21 new Enterprise Zones, including the Tees Valley and Tyneside, represents a welcome recognition that some part of the country are being hit far harder by the cuts than others - even it looks suspiciously like a re-run of what Margaret Thatcher's government tried in the 1980s.

But those measures apart, this was actually rather a dull Budget – much more a case of "steady as she goes" than the kind of political game-changer which Chancellors usually like to spring on us.

Perhaps the most significant paragraph in Mr Osborne's statement was the one in which he signalled the eventual scrapping of the 50p top rate of tax, drawing a line under the Brown era and pointing to his longer-term ambitions as a tax-cutter in the Nigel Lawson mould.

Meanwhile the key political dividing lines remain unchanged – the Coalition claiming its radical deficit-reduction strategy will ultimately deliver stronger growth, Labour maintaining that it has merely delayed any prospect of real recovery.

At the moment, the economic evidence is favouring Labour. But with another four years for the green shoots to flower before it has to face the electorate again, the Coalition has time on its side.

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G Eagle Esq said...

Salve, Magister Pavlos [Hi, Paul]

Without always agreeing with your views, one always leaves this kindly space better-informed

I flatter myself that I might agree with Meinherr von und zu Anon on so many things

.... apart of course on whether Los Angeles should be towed northwards into the Pacific and then sunk, to form a breakwater for the City of Victoria

.... presumably as a condition precedent to California being allowed to become a British Dominion, as an alternative to budget-cuts (eg closing its Fire & Police Departments, to reduce its budget-deficit)

However, this Eagle has to -ppcontradict the linguistically-impoverished Anon

Vale [Ciao]


Anonymous said...

Until the Unite led Labour party tell us exactly what they would have cut,they will continue to have zero economic credibilty.