Wednesday, 18 March 2015

And now, a nice shiny – glittery indeed – election budget

Yesterday was Budget day, here in Britain.

The government presented its financial plans for the sixth, and last time, in the five years this parliament has lasted: a new one is due to be elected on 7 May.

There is only on purpose for the first four years of budgets of any Tory government, and this is a Tory government, with some minor concessions to its junior partners or, to use the technical term, fig leaves in the Liberal Democrat Party. That purpose is to look after its paymasters. The Tory Party’s owners, in fact. The large businesses and wealthy individuals who have bought the Party by funding its every move to win and hang on to power.

George Osborne: pouring on the snake oil
Those budgets have helped achieve that goal, increasing poverty for a great swaths of people at the financial bottom of society, while equally those who already own and take the most to add still further to their wealth. Today, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne boasted that living standards overall are higher than when his government too office, which is strictly true: he has managed, after five years, to get back to and slightly above the position in which his predecessors left the country in 2010. But in contrast to this sluggish growth, for the top 1% of society, it has been spectacular. Inequality has increased by leaps and bounds.

After five budgets to help its friends, now the Tories need a budget to try to secure a win in May. They don’t have a lot to play with, so what they’re handing out is modest: a little tax help on savings, some help of first-time buyers of houses, some loosening of taxation on earned income. And a small reduction in the duty on beer, so at least we can drown our sorrows more cheaply (well, as long as beer’s our tipple).

These are moves that help a large number of people, but still a minority: people in a position to save, to dream of buying a house, and of course to hold down a job. And the tax measures help the wealthy not just the poor. In fact, as the BBC's Paul Lewis shows, they help people with incomes of £43,300 to £120,000 a year more than twice as much more as those on £11,000 to £41,865. Those on under £10,000 pay no tax so gain nothing at all.

Presumably the calculation is that the poorest often don’t vote at all, and even if they did, probably wouldn’t vote Tory. So the proposals are aimed at people in the middle whom they hope, and need, to win.

The point about the measures isn’t to provide a lot of help. It’s to look encouraging. Glitter, in other words, not gold. Perhaps the best illustration of that aspect came in Osborne’s speech. In the autumn, he had announced that austerity would have to continue another five years. Today he announced that some good economic news meant it might end a year earlier. In other words, he’d painted a dismal picture of further battering pain, and hoped to win brownie points today by announcing that it would last less long than he’d previously threatened.

So we should feel grateful to the man who assaults us in the street, knocks us to the ground, and steals our wallet, if he then gives us back a couple of banknotes.

Sadly, we have quite a lot of voters who are prepared to give the mugger the benefit of the doubt this way. The great question is how many are there, and will they swing the result on 7 May? It’s going to take a fight to stop them.


I particularly enjoyed the statesmanlike comments of Nigel Farage, leader of the Xenophobes of UKIP, to the BBC. He assured us he’d seen no sign of policies from the government to eliminate the deficit. He said it smugly, but then he’s always smug.

Farage: statesmanlike. As always
On the other hand, I’ve never heard him come up with a coherent policy to eliminate the deficit himself. Or any part of the economy. Or, indeed, on any other matter.

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