Wednesday 18 March 2015

George Osborne's Core Vote Budget

I don't know where this idea originates from but apparently, at least among Conservative Party circles, George Osborne is considered something of a political genius. Then again, among his people Michael Gove is thought of as an "intellectual". So we're talking a very low bar here. Yet wanting to see the best in everyone, I've patiently tracked Osborne's performance over six budgets, five autumn statements in the middle of winter, and seen too many interviews with Gormless Gidders. Each time I look for that spark. I've even borrowed the Large Hadron Collider to scrutinise Osborne for particle-sized flashes of brilliance. Nothing has shown on the scanners. How big does an atom smasher have to be or, in this case, how long should scrutiny carry on before you affirm the null hypothesis?

See today's budget as a case in point. Stung by claims that another Tory-led government would take public spending back to the 1930s as percentage of GDP expended, Osborne furiously backpedaled and is proud to say his target now matches the figures from 2000. However, in easing the austerity pain he neglected to wax so lyrical about this:

The Tory and Liberal Democrat cuts plan (remember, they've signed off on this too) invites reductions bigger than anything we've so far seen in this Parliament. Then, inexplicably, spending shoots up above 2009-10 levels in the final year of the next term. It's almost as if there's an election at the end of that spending round.

Then there is this so helpfully provided by The Speccie:

They're moaning about this because while education and NHS budgets are "protected" under Osborne's plans, military spending is set to be cut. I'm more bothered by the devastation to be wreaked on the public sector - particularly local government-provided services - and the butchering of social security for the poorest and most vulnerable. The figures might not say 1930s, but living standards on the ground certainly will.

Not to worry though. Tax credits, disability, unemployment, housing benefit, council tax support, etc. are all due to be raided so corporation tax for Britain's largest and richest businesses can come down further, but at least those feckless scroungers and those happy to put up with low pay and zero hour contracts can look forward to a penny off the pint, and tuppence from cider. Nothing says contempt quite like a Tory booze duty cut.

As for the rest, raising the basic tax threshold benefits the better off disproportionately more than the poor, subsidising wannabe house buyers saving for a deposit is bound to see more cash flow to those who don't really need it, and stealing Labour's bankers' tax levy to show they're getting really tough on City abuses. The rest is hardly stop the presses stuff. The annual limit on "normal" ISAs will be raised by a few hundred quid, Manchester gets to keep its business rates, church roof repair funds get a £15m bung, and that really is about it.

The Tories think this is a clever budget. The delivery was slick, even if it was taken apart by an increasingly assertive Ed Miliband afterwards. And, at first glance, it doesn't read like a red in tooth and claw manifesto for class war. Already it's being spun as a budget for everyone. It's anything but. Few apart from the already convinced will be persuaded of the merits of Osborne's case, and the huge and totally unnecessary cuts to come (plus the small matter of vote Tory, get UKIP) is pretty much enough to ward everyone else off. This was a core vote budget, and that isn't a sign of genius: more a signal of defeat and an  acknowledgement of impending doom.


Dave K said...

I think this Idea of him being a Genius just seems to come from a group of commentator's who happen to be his mates or are easily impressed. I am pretty sure that most average Tory party membersor voters will not be that keen on him. Given that in 5 short years he has had one Omnishambles budget and a spending review from 4 months ago he has had to unpick yesterday. Clarke, Brown and Darling never had to do this.

One element was quite clever. In a post Cameron would when vying for the leadership. Osborne made clear in this budget relatively he could be the more moderate sober candidate (its relative) not prone to Boris's wild fits of populism or being an obsessed ideologue like Gove. His only other rival for the "centrist" candidacy Teresa May has been spiked and worn down by having been the Home Secretary as a string of establishment cover ups have come to light.

BCFG said...

The reason spending goes up in the last year has nothing to do with the election but with the fact that by then a much greater proportion of the state budget will be going to private business and by that date they will be able to transfer wealth from us to themselves and their network of friends. the sort of people who attend the same Rugby matches and whose kids go to a similar school.

If they increased spend now it would be wasted on things like a decent health care system, decent infrastructure investment. And my god if we did that Tarquin would not be able to afford his second yacht and that way hell lies.

asquith said...

The thing about the 30s is, it wasn't actually that bleak for millions of people. Our grandfathers suffered terribly, but people in the south-east generally didn't, and there was a lot of prosperity, which is why the Baldwins and Chamberlains enjoyed more popularity than you might care to think.

And that's a parallel, isn't it? Not everywhere then was Wigan Pier and not everywhere now is Stoke-on-Trent.

And, admittedly under VERY different circumstances, the culmination of the 30s was a Tory-Labour coalition! With (Major) Attlee and his comrades basically running the home front.

We should turn our thoughts to that, that's what I'm saying.