The Budget delivered by the Chancellor today can be summed up as follows:
1. £5 billion of cuts
2. £2.5 billion of stimulus
3. Both these paid for by an ‘undershoot’ of losses that is a statistical glitch
4. Freebies on house purchase for young voters more likely to vote Labour
5. The vindictive targeting of one donor to the Tory Party, but no attempt at all
to target benefits to those who really need them.
It is a telling comment on this Budget that £2.5 billion is paraded as an economic stimulus, but the forecast lending increase to business by two technically insolvent and largely government-owned banks is forty times bigger than that. As a parallel for the real meaning of Darling’s Mandelson/Whelan/Brown/MacNeill proposals, it’s hard to beat ‘a drop in the ocean’.
I often forget that of course the Opposition leader handles the Budget critique (not wee Georgie) but anyway, for once Cameron gave a bravura performance: hard-hitting, well-briefed, delivered with wit and nailing why – in terms of both minute scale and grossly optimistic growth forecasts – New Labour’s proposals are a fantasy doomed to be unveiled as such in the coming months.
As Cammers sat down to wild Tory cheering, the Deputy Speaker announced the turn of Nick Clegg…at which point there was the usual rude stampede for the exits. Clegg looked uncertain, read closely from his notes, and muttered on about the need for ‘real change’. By the time a junior Treasury Minister rose to highlight some of the detail, the house was 95% empty. Thus John Redwood’s highly pertinent remarks about the gap between what New Labour asked for last time from the banks (and what happened) fell largely upon the empty leather benches.
As the British bus heads for the terminus, there is no conductor in the Commons shouting “All change!” As usual – and as expected – it was no change.