Some thoughts on the Budget
22 Mar 2007
Gordon handled the attack about his Stalinist tendencies in the only way he could; he made a joke about it right at the beginning and tried to defuse it. It worked for the Budget, but it will return to haunt him. It may have been an unguarded comment by a former Cabinet Secretary, but there is too much evidence from other Civil Servants and Ministers that his style does have this unfortunate resemblance.
I found it difficult to reconcile his forecasts about inflation - down to 2% - with what I read about the likely movement in mortgage rates. If inflation is seriously going to go down to the target of 2%, why do the economic commentators tell me that the next movement in Bank rate is going to be up from the current 5.25%
The date for finalising the Comprehensive Spending Review appears to have slipped from July to "the autumn". I expect that negotiations with spending departments are very difficult, given the small amount of manoeuvre the Chancellor has left himself for some key departments. And the 3% efficiency savings from the public sector - which the Chancellor banked and redistributed - may be very difficult to secure. I am particularly worried about support for social services, run by local government. Unless there is a reasonable uplift in what they get, Adult Social Services in Hampshire are going to be in real difficulties.
His Budget sounded to me just like all his other budgets; everything is going swimmingly, and has been going swimmingly since 1997. The statistics he used to substantiate this were very carefully chosen.
The awkward bits of the Budget - the borrowing figures - were, as usual, read out rather quickly.
I was interested in what he said about rescuing those occupational pensioners whose schemes have let them down. The Government is on collision course with the Ombudsman and Parliament in denying that it was partly responsible for misleading people. The Chancellor found a large sum of money - was it £4 billion - in order to put this right. Having taken part in the debates about this, I hope that this will put the issue to bed. What Ros Altman has to say about this will be crucial.
On the "now you see it, now you don't" part of the Budget, I ask myself "Why does he go on doing this?" Why go for about 20 minutes of popularity by leaving us with the impression that our taxes have been cut, only to live with days of unpopularity when we discover that, once again, that impression was a delusion. It is just counterproductive to try to wrongfoot the Leader of the Opposition and score a quick political point, leaving the watching world confused and bemused.
Finally, after the Budget, Gordon has an irritating - and discourteous - habit of not listening to the reply from the Leader of the Opposition. He will talk to whoever is sitting next to him in order to avoid being wounded by the criticism. He should be man enough now to take the medicine, and to listen to what his political opponents have to say about his Budget.
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Copyright Sir George Young Bt. 2015