Today’s Budget was like a rusty bucket, full of holes and leaks. We know that New Labour has scant regard for Parliamentary traditions, but they really excelled themselves last weekend. The national newspapers from Saturday through to Tuesday have been full of stories about what the Budget would contain. The fact that all these stories have been proved to be right shows that they must have been leaked by insiders, Party spin-doctors and ministers. And, there is no doubt that the rot goes all the way to the top. The Mail on Sunday reported an exclusive interview with Alistair Darling ahead of the Budget. In this interview he set out his view of the economy and declared, “This will not be a giveaway Budget”. Previous Chancellors have resigned for less. The convention that ministerial statements are addressed to the House of Commons before being made public was broken in a big way.
This is nothing new and the situation has got progressively worse because the Labour majority in the Commons will not bring ministers to heel. Labour government ministers have not only ignored the convention, they have walked all over it with contempt and ground it in to dust. These conventions grease the wheels of Parliamentary procedure and matter. When they lose power and sit on the opposition benches they will be the first to complain if a Conservative Chancellor does the same.
This was a non-Budget as a result. The only things not leaked were the increased duties on tobacco, alcohol and car fuels. In any case, these duty increases are a permanent feature of Budgets. There was no real need for Darling to present himself before the Commons. The real purpose of the Budget was an opportunity for an hour long party political broadcast on behalf of the Labour Party. The pointed announcement that a tax information sharing agreement had been agreed with Belize was deliberately and pointedly an attack on the Conservative Party and its financial backer, Lord Ashcroft. Whatever you might think about that murky relationship it clearly riles Labour. Judging by the reaction on the Labour benches it was the highlight of the Budget speech.
So now we now. Chancellor Darling put his Party before the Country. None of the vital issues that Resurgence identified were tackled. We still have Debt, Debasement and Devaluation of a weak Pound, and unrealistic interest rates. The tax regime is further complicated with temporary tax rate changes which are actually a giveaway and intended to sway voters. Tax collection evasion was not covered even though it gushes out like holes in that rusty bucket. That lost tax would go along way towards reducing the nation’s debt. Debt reduction targets were presented as a strategic plan. The UK’s economy is a rusty bucket.
This was not a principled Budget. It was pure politics.