I’d love to be able to write a few hundred exciting words on the thrills and spills of yesterday’s budget, but I can’t. Not that I don’t have time or ability, it’s just that there weren’t any thrills to speak of.
Osborne’s problem seems to have been that he was given the traditional hour to deliver a budget speech. He should have been given 20 minutes instead, because he really struggled to fill his hour. A good 8 minutes of it were just him coughing nervously every time he was about to give some bad news. He may be a shrewd political strategist, but he’d make a terrible poker player.
Most of the speech had been rather brazenly leaked the night before – an offence for which Chancellors used to resign – but George had predictably kept one announcement back for himself. That was to form the big finale of his budget. The announcement that he was reducing the tax on fuel at the pumps by one penny per litre. That was designed to create the headline, which it seems mostly to have done today. The Sun has gone with ‘Britain you can drive your car’; The Guardian with ‘forget the cuts, fill up your tank’; and The Times with ‘Priming the pump’.
I don’t drive, so this has very little direct effect on me. My lovely Nigerian neighbour, though, does drive. She shuttles her kids all over the place. I bumped into her this morning as I was leaving for work and asked her how much it would save her. “Nothing at all,” came the reply. That confused me a bit until she explained that the two petrol stations most local to us had put their prices up by a penny the evening before the budget only to take the penny back off after Osborne’s announcement. She was pretty annoyed about the whole thing. An annoyed Nigerian mother slagging off the Government is an immensely entertaining thing and really did get my day off to a good start.
Osborne went with the No Alternative justification for sticking with economic plans that, rather obviously, aren’t working. He said that borrowing would go up because of unexpectedly high inflation. That it wasn’t unexpected is true, but I’ll set that aside to point out the Office for Budget Responsibility have confirmed that inflation will rise by £11.7 billlion whilst borrowing will rise by £45 billion. So I’m not entirely sure what the Chancellor is on about using that as an excuse for his failure to get a grip on our borrowing. The other thing about the national borrowing figures are the Treasury’s calculations. In order to bring borrowing down, Osborne has used an assumption of 6% year-on-year growth in revenue when it’s very rarely above 2%, even in good times.
That assumption is absolutely ridiculous. Much like the Chancellor…
- Budget 2011: Welcome to Planet Osborne (guardian.co.uk)