Wednesday 6 March 2024

Jeremy Hunt's Last Budget

The curtain falls on Jeremy Hunt's final budget, and as such this was the most explicitly political of statements. And looking tonight at the BBC's website, it has dished up the message the Tories are hoping to fill the front pages on Thursday: Jeremy Hunt cuts National Insurance and extends child benefit. A headline speaking of munificence and "getting it", designed for the low information punter who catches it in the side eye. As with all things Tory, they're hoping most won't bother with the detail.

And they're right, most won't. Stealing Labour's feeble flagship policy of abolishing nondom status, but then giving moneybags new arrivals four years of tax-free life won't get a negative write up in The Sun. The flat rate cut to National Insurance will see low paid workers save barely £150/year while those who are better off can look forward to pocketing thousands. The extension of child benefit by raising the income threshold might be welcome to some enjoying a higher household income, but it does not match the rise in the cost of living - leaving most parents with zero extra help. Public services will continue to rot as pleas for more resources fell on deaf ears. Apart from the Graun and Mirror and sundry internet-based outlets, none of this shall get coverage. And because they're shielded from critical coverage, the Tories will think they've pulled a blinder.

To be a bit contrarian, they have and they haven't. By re-emphasising their politics of doing bugger all, Labour's tepid response - Keir Starmer took Hunt to task for not cutting income tax - only serves to reconfirm that the Tories' political project since Covid, of downplaying the state's capacity to do anything, has become a consensus the shadow front bench has embraced. As reiterated by Rachel Reeves on Sunday. It also means that Labour's capitulation to their agenda means the measures announced today are so many potential rakes for a new government. When Labour comes to reverse National Insurance cuts, claw back child benefit from better off families, increase fuel duties again, unfreeze booze taxes, spend more on public services, and start taking the green transition seriously, the surviving MPs of the coming wipe out will sit there on the opposition benches reeling off gotcha after gotcha. As if anyone will care for what they say.

The Tories have remade the political terrain in their image, but they're not in a position to profit from it. The triumphalism of John McTernan, writing in the Telegraph, underlines this basic truism. Among the professional middle class, the opinion formers, and the personnel of the state, the recklessness of the Tories have destroyed their reputation as a serious party of government. And among the wider layers, those who have traditionally formed the backbone of mass conservatism, no amount of anti-immigration posturing or pledges to bear down on tax are going to win them back. And the reason why is simple. Despite her pathetic efforts at rehabilitation, Liz Truss gets the blame for hiking up interest rates and crashing the economy. And Sunak cops the flak for doing absolutely nothing to shield the core Tory support from the effects of their folly. Both have used their leadership to slam their feet on the accelerator and driven their party hell for leather down the highway to oblivion.

What will seemingly be the last Tory budget for a very long time doesn't change a thing. By-election disasters for both parties have only reaffirmed rather than challenged their strategies, and the budget's political reception won't change that either. The Tories are doomed and Labour will win. And the rest of us? If we want anything out of the next government we're going to have to fight for it, as has always been the case.

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1 comment:

Zoltan Jorovic said...

Looks like the budget didn't go as well as Hunt hoped. Tepid reaction despite the efforts of the Mail and Express.

Also a surprising lack of comments here...I was expecting something about the Property owning smugerati being gruntled.