Friday, June 25, 2010

Budget and Balls

Every time I turn on the telly at the moment it’s either vuvuzelas or Ed Balls. Few politicians can have grabbed at the luxury of Opposition Sniping with such greed; even by New Labour standards the man is shameless. Balls and Milliband Minor appear to be the Labour leadership candidates most vigorously banging on the ‘no cuts’ drum, conveniently forgetting that in power they had budgeted for over £40bn of them with no clear plan for the how or where.

Balls’s strategy for damaging the Coalition, perhaps hoping to engineer some sort of Liberal backbench revolt (ha ha) is to claim that this was an ideological Tory small-state Budget which the Lib Dems are being reluctantly forced to prop up. This is disingenuous twaddle and Balls must know it.

First, none of the arguments from history or Japan are directly analogous because right at this moment huge sovereign debt is viewed as toxic by the markets. Therefore Governments have to be seen to be able to service the deficit, which is why the Cutting Budget was the most pressing practical issue faced by the Coalition. Whether the most severe cuts will ever actually materialise over the next five years is another matter entirely; the Budget in itself was the point. The hysterics are thus misplaced.

Second, this was plainly not a Tory Budget, it was a Coalition Budget. The income tax threshold increase and CGT rise are Lib Dem policies. In fact, it is remarkable how generous the Tories have been as the stronger partner. This is very bad for Balls because the entire centre-ground is occupied, leaving him clinging to the hope that the Coalition will fall apart so that the centre-left opens up.

Third, it is becoming increasingly apparent that this Coalition is the best thing that has happened to British politics for a long time. I’ve been summarising Budgets and Pre-Budget Reports for 11 years now and on every previous occasion the speech at the dispatch box was delivered by a dour Scotsman and was quite irrelevant. This is because the speech was spin; all the actual measures were buried in arcane language within a Domesday Book-sized pile of Budget Notes and supplementary documents. Despite all the headline announcements, the Emergency Budget was the easiest I’ve ever encountered, its Domesday Book was a slim volume and everything important that was in the Budget was explicitly stated by George Osborne in the House of Commons.

Being in Coalition – where they know they will be able to blame each other at the end of it - has effectively freed the Government from having to spin to the public or bow to the ideological pests within their own parties. Can you even remember a time when a PM has been as explicit as Cameron about bad news? Even more surprising is that because they have been able to decide the compromises so quickly, and apparently get on personally, they have been able to create a platform from which they can be swift and radical rather than slowly fudging. This probably won’t be able to happen again because if coalitions become common the dynamic will change. Despite the economic situation, CamCleggism is a brief Golden Age; we should enjoy it. Balls to the Eds.


Willard said...

As an astute a review as I've read. Didn't know that about the Domesday Book, though it backs up what Osborne said on the day. What has surprised me the most isn't what happened in the House (the Labour response was toothless) but the apparent appetite for this on the street. Government waste has been the elephant in the room for many years -- stories of departments spending surplus money in the last month of the year to stop their budgets being cut, wasteful government pamphlets, quangos, quangos and yet more quangos. I'm loving the coalition and want a t-shirt made stating the fact.

worm said...

very elucidating!

You seem to have a very good grasp on Balls

jonathan law said...

Being in Coalition – where they know they will be able to blame each other at the end of it - has effectively freed the Government from having to spin to the public or bow to the ideological pests within their own parties.

A really good point that I don't think I've ever come across before. As each party has a ready-made, all-purpose excuse for everything that can and will go wrong (the other lot), they're freed from the angsty, nail-chewing defensiveness that characterized so much newlabbery.

I suppose I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt at the moment, but then I did the same with T. Blair for a long long time -- so I'm probably wrong as usual.