There was a massive contradiction in Philip Hammond’s Budget, and skipping around the UK media set today, I’m left feeling that pretty much everyone missed it.
Mr Hammond opened with some self-congratulatory throat-clearing in the narcissistic manner adopted by all Chancellors since Gordon Brown’s regrettable era. It started with the usual lie about more people being in work since 1391. A little more truthful would’ve been, “there are more people in tied cottages working 11 hours a day for a groat an hour – and paying a higher tax rate than the Sheriff of Nottingham – since 1391”. In truth, there are more people doing that than the entire population of England in 1391.
But setting all this tedious point-scoring aside, the chord progression of Hammond’s overture went like this: we’re doing jolly well, unfortunately the Debt keeps going up so Scroogerama continues; but our vibrant economy has delivered more tithes than that we expected, so we’re going to use it to make some key social groups feel better.
This is not so much a chord progression as the sound made by a disturbed infant on being given a guitar for the first time. The debt, ladies and gentlemen, is £1.7 trillion….a 67% increase on 2010. Almost 55% of that is down to bank bailouts and unfunded civil servant pensions – Waspis take note. The debt is not getting smaller sports fans, it is growing at a rate that will make it as unrepayable as that of Italy (vs gdp) by 2022….a mere five years from now.
In short, Hammond the increasingly confident StandUp said, “We owe tons of money, but we’re making a profit”.
That’s the situation.
Not one single item in the Budget addressed the paying off of astronomical debt.
That’s the contradiction.
So why was the contradiction allowed to pass unnoticed? Very simple: the three Opposition Parties would like to spend even more.
And why is the contradiction there? Because the Conservatives would like a cast-iron base of beads for the voters from which to launch a General Election….should it become necessary.
Let’s examine some of the measures, and then match these to the key target audiences the MayorMayNot Tory Party needs to have onside in the feelgood Space.
Tax: Phil the Unpaid Bill launched into big ‘tax dodgers’ to the tune of 750 million quid, and then hit the self-employed and SME entrepreneurs for six times as much. In addition, 6.5 billion quid went to relief for every basic-rate taxpayer, or couple needing to meet childcare costs. (But multinational business will continue to enjoy a lower average tax rate than either of these last two groups).
Pubs: They were given time off from business rate consequences. So there will still be a pub and a stabilised booze cost to enable the electorate to remain fuzzy round the edges in the face of debts they can’t pay. (Don’t dismiss this factor too easily: seven million UK homes have maxed out credit cards, and at the last Election – it is estimated – 8% of all voters were affected by drink when putting the cross in the square).
Infrastructure: £300m goes to support the “brightest and best research talent”; £200m for local projects to leverage private sector investment in fibre broadband networks; £16m for a 5G hub. £90m will go to support the Northern Powerhouse pipe-dream, and £23M on the national road network. This is all trendy chickenfeed, but the bits in total add up to a billion…a nice defence against charges of zero investment should circumstances require it.
Not a word about Waspi theft, and barely a mention of Brexit.
The last line above is ironic. Immediately after Hammond sat down (and gave way to a Corbyn response that showed no awareness of Budget content) I tweeted as follows:
Theresa May (who has the cunning of all those who need something to offset innate stupidity) has maneouvred the Oppositions into a corner. If the Lords keep on sabotaging the Brexit Bill, and the Commons PLP/SNP then weighs in with umpteen changes following the negotiation, she will stuff them with a General Election. And if they do nothing, they’re stuffed anyway.
Even more disturbing, I note some Deadbrainers on the Left calling for the abolition of the Lords….um, because their Lordships are backing their cause. While this sounds attractive to the chatterati around Highgate and Muswell Hill supper tables, I would counsel them, as ever, to be careful what they wish for. The removal of the Upper House would be a relatively easy thing to achieve electorally, but its replacement could easily turn into underwater rugby without a referee. It’s not a clever idea to leave a Government with dictatorial tendencies (and weak Opposition) with no constitutional opposition at all.
There is nothing wonderful or sacrosanct about being elected: it didn’t stop Hitler, it won’t stop Erdogan, and it doesn’t seem to cramp Vladimir Putin’s style overmuch. Further, the elected Chamber we already have is fully elected at the same time as being utterly corrupt. I would rather see a Second Chamber comprising first, a mix of nominations based on proven community service, commercial success and social deprivation; and alongside them, an equal number of members based on PR election and by law zero support from any existing political Party or pressure group. Lobbying of this Second Chamber would also be illegal.
But I recognised long ago that I am an allegedly mad, lone voice on that question, so I propose to go no further on it.
Suffice to say in conclusion that today’s UK Budget served two purposes:
- To distract voter attention away from the Big Issue: unsustainable sovereign and household debt
- To prepare the ground for a potential snap Election landslide for the Conservatives.
I now call upon the idiots on all sides of the question to come up with a way out of the interminable mess they have created.