Therefore, what is different about today's statement is the final realisation that having a programme for capitalism instead of sections of capital might be a good idea. Hence we have Gideon's subsequent conversion to elements of 'plan B'. We've already seen the the boost to flood defences and acknowledgement of the added economic activity that spend could generate. So today the Treasury has found £1bn for roads, a billion pound loan to extend the Northern Line to Battersea, the rolling out of ultra-fast broadband in a dozen cities, a £600m fund for science, an addition of £1bn to the much-vaunted but so far invisible business bank, and commitment to maintaining the annual £33bn infrastructure investment bill. A further £1bn is being made available for new schools too, after the money was stripped out from Labour's Building Schools for the Future programme. And only then, the cash available for academies and free schools. Schools left crumbling by BSF cancellation are likely to remain that way unless they convert.
It's pretty weak stuff, but the penny of state assistance for the economy has finally dropped, so I suppose we should be grateful that industrial strategy has belatedly embedded itself in the political consensus.
Now, many commentators of all political persuasions like to moan about bank lending. Or, more accurately, the lack of it. Far be it for me to defend the banks I think it is worth stating that they are not acting irrationally. With economic uncertainty, high unemployment, the preponderance of flexible contracting, and private sector debt at ludicrous levels (mainly thanks to those city boys), you can understand why banks may be reluctant to lend. Help to change this state of affairs requires putting money in people's pockets. Once it's there, all of a sudden, budgeting for a loan or mortgage becomes a bit easier. So, superficially, the raising of the tax threshold to £9,440 from next April will put quite a bit of cash in everyone's pockets. £1,335 extra, apparently. In a transparently populist move, Gideon has also ruled out the 3p petrol duty, and train travellers can look forward to frozen ticket prices (I'll believe that one when I see it). Welcome, yes?
Taken by themselves they certainly ease the cost of living. But would it come as any surprise to learn these tax benefits for working people are being taken out of the public assistance some of our poorest people depend on? Of course not, it's the Tories after all. Jobseeker's Allowance, Employment Support Allowance, income support, and the state pension are all getting below-inflation rises for the next three years. In other words, a cut. After next April the same will be true of Housing Benefit. These measures alone (sans the budget cuts coming with Universal Credit, the new disability Personal Independent Payment benefit, the localisation of housing and council tax benefits, and the Social Fund) is projected to save £3.7bn, which will help the Treasury plug the hole left by the income tax cut.
While the working poor are bribed with tax cuts funded mainly by themselves and those unfortunate enough to have to subsist on benefits, there is a tax cut bonanza for the wealthy. As well as profiting from the basic rate threshold, Britain's hard-pressed affluent classes can look forward to a one per cent rise in the threshold they start paying the 40p tax rate at. This on top of next April's bonanza with the cut in the top rate of tax. Corporation tax is going to be cut again by a further 1% which, let's be honest, is a different name for another tax cut for the rich. And tax relief is being granted on capital equipment purchases up to the value of £250,000 - something that will benefit an estimated 99% of UK business. Gideon says it will make it easier for businesses to invest. I call it another scheme for funnelling public money into private coffers.
In sum, Gideon squeezes the poor while bribing them with their own money, and showers concession after concession on the most wealthy people in society. People just like Gideon, come to think of it. For all its forays into industrial strategy, this is a blueprint for a society disfigured by inequality and poverty. It is a statement of class war that the Tories are determined to wage on behalf of the wealthy, and one that makes their claims of 'being all in it together' sound sicker all the more they repeat it.