It turns out I write a political blog. I didn’t set out to do this. It wasn’t my fault. I intended to write about funny stuff in my life. It just happens that most of the funny stuff in my life is generated by the Conservative party leadership. Anyway, I digress. As I write a political blog (and I do, I checked. People have evidence of politics going on and everything), I thought I’d best do a post on one of the biggest political events of the calendar. No, not Michael Fabricant’s hair appointments, nor Sith Lord Mandelson’s annual sacrifice of Lib Dems to the political gods, nor even the press lobby’s famous day trips to Margate. They’re all huge days, but this post is about the Budget.
Alistair Darling had a really difficult task on his hands. I don’t think there’s been much emphasis put on that in the media coverage thus far. The press has built this budget as make-or-break for Labour. A bad performance from Darling, apparently, would be the end of the election, and possibly the world as we know it. It would certainly make JK Hardie spin in his grave and time go backwards. Or something. On top of the press hype, Darling had to deliver this Budget against a backdrop of parliamentary sleaze in the form of Lobbygate. [As an aside, I bloody hate the suffix -gate on anything remotely resembling a scandal. It’s just lazy really. Woodward and Bernstein have a lot to answer for. I’m sure Nixon would agree.]
Against that backdrop, and with the major worry of Hardie’s corpse turning up, Darling gave a steady, understated but effective performance in the house. Course anyone can do it in their living room, so then he went and did the same thing in the House. Some Chancellors, weeks away from a general election, would have launched into a bonanza giveaway. Our Darling didn’t fall into that trap. Oh no, he sidestepped that, knowing the voting public would see through it. Alistair went for fiscal responsibility and longer-term steadying of the great ship of State. There were measures to help the young, the old, the sick, and the needy. There was support for businesses. There was tax increases for those who can easily afford them. Why, some would say there was redistribution of wealth! This steady long-term thinking and support for wealth creation made the financiers happy with the stock market up at close of business.
Even without flashy giveaways and short-term bonuses, darling Darling managed to weave a political narrative through his statement. Labour made the right choices over the economy while the Tories made the wrong choices and will continue to make the wrong choices if elected. He’d talked about employment, job guarantees, tax credits, changes in stamp duty, making savings in civil service, and the brilliant Green Investment Bank. And he built up to close with a tax agreement with Belize, the home of Michael Ashcroft and his millions. Cue laughter from everywhere but the Tory benches.
In response to this, David Cameron made a statement which said, essentially, bugger all. He spent a few minutes calling Gordon Brown names, insulted our fair Darling once or twice and even – shock horror – referred to the fact that Liam Byrne is balding. No Punch and Judy politics from Dave then…. He mentioned debt, more debt, the nation’s debt, the deficit and wooh the scary old debt thing. Of course, if you bother to look at the OECD figures for debt as a percentage of GDP, you’ll see the following:
Italy 97.4% Japan 96.5% United States 56.4% France 53.1% Germany 50.2% UK 46.9%
Not so high after all, is it Dave? And not so scary when you realise the same figure in the 1950s (under a Tory government) was at 150%!
No, Darling did the business, Dave relied on insulting Liam Byrne’s hairline and trying to scare people about debt levels, and George Osborne has been locked away in case anybody asks him a question. And, thankfully for those who dislike zombies, Keir Hardie can continue to rest peacefully. For now.