Having been off the airwaves for what seems like an age, a warm welcome back to those readers who have had nothing on the page to read that haven't fled for more fertile pastures. Regrettably the significantly smaller and more rapid-fire interaction available on Twitter has taken up much of my limited spare time whilst some of the rest has been taken on some winter vacations down to parts of the American South West. If 'A week is a long time in politics' is something of a trite expression, then four months seems like an eternity. Indeed last week revealed one of the most inept budgets I can recall in recent times, certainly since the heyday of the 'Iron Fist' or 'Man who saved the World' (sadly not a bastardised David Bowie reference but this man)
The title post refers, as always to a Star Trek episode, which I thought was going to be something of a tricky fit (I'm waiting for a John Redwood related story to try and fit in 'Spock's Brain') when coming up with the concept of posts encompassing all 79 episodes of the series, but the budget appears to me to show a worrying lack of political sense and direction. As Telegraph (!) blogger Iain Martin put it:
'At least Gordon Brown's budgets used to take a day or so to unravel'
This budget basically was two fingers to almost every sector of society, beyond the primarily London-based Super-rich. When even notorious Blairite blogger Dan Hodges wades in to the morass to condemn it and, to my great surprise even praise Ed Miliband, (whose Budget riposte, although perhaps not as much of a tour de force as certain Sino/North Korean collaborators in the Guardian would have liked certainly saw him have much the better of the exchanges.) You've got to know you've badly misjudged the public mood.
Indeed the reaction of the many UKIP and Ultra - Libertarian bloggers on Twitter has been one of almost total disbelief. As one, the irascible @Jim_Watford put it:
'I never thought he (Cameron) could lose to Ed Miliband but that's what's going to happen'
'Fuel Duty being raised again. does anyone in this government have a clue?'
So why does the Budget attract, in my opinion such justified opprobrium? For me, three measures stood out as politically naive or plain idiotic:
1/ Failure to scrap plans to increase the Fuel Duty by 3p a litre. Whilst the Green opposition has actually been relatively neutral on this, it had the effect of seriously annoying The Sun and by extension it's 3 million plus readers, many of whom are converted Conservative voters the party needs to win if it is to have any chance of retaining power after 2014 (although I have to say a 2015 election is looking likely if the current polling trends continue) I can recall (and more on the 'Second Petrol crisis' to follow, time permitting) the 2000 'Fuel protests' which took place when Petrol was hovering around the £1.00 per litre mark. Diesel is already hitting over £1.50 without the tax rises, and for most dwellers outside London, Public transport for grocery shopping simply is not an option. Indeed, Osborne needs to be looking to cut further into the Labour client state with a view to reducing Fuel Duty rather than increasing it!
2/ As both 'Stalinist state' advocate Richard J Murphy quite eloquently and Ken Livingstone, in typically racist fashion, have pointed out, and I have also understood, the threat of people moving from London to Dubai, Singapore or Sitzerland is typically overplayed. Thus at a time when living standards are stagnating, it seems insane to cut the top rate of tax. And even assuming that, as stipulated this was a revenue maximiser, then why cut it only to 45p - The political lack of nous is truly breathtaking. I'd certainly not have advocated cutting the rate to 40p, but at least such a move would have been intellectually coherent.
3/ By 'Freezing' the age-related allowances for pensioners Osborne appears to have reintroduced the famous 'Stealth tax' narrative into British Politics. As the CPS pointed out, even by 2004, Labour had, through this method, introduced 75 Stealth taxes. I, for one, didn't elect a Tory government just to see them do exactly the same as the 'Clunking fist'. Furthermore, the elderly comprise the overwhelming majority of Tory activists and much of their vote. As I have pointed out before, the kind of people who are manning the barricades at 'Right to work' protests, 'Occupying' Private property, or 'Marching for Alternatives' aren't going to vote Conservative no matter how much you try and appease them. Why, thus, put in a measure likely to alienate your base, especially at a time when due to the massive fiscal profligacy of the previous administration, elderly savers have been the victims of an almost ZIRP (Zero Interest rate policy) for nearly two years of this government, and 2 of the previous?
In short, the Budget was almost enough to push me, in Millenarian style, into the Miliband camp, if only to see if following five years of Hard Leftism, something reasonable might arise from the ashes. It seems I'm not alone, and recent polls now put a ten point gap between Miliband and the Tories. The by-election result alluded to in my colleagues earlier post seems, superficially to have been a respite for Cameron, only if we ignore that whilst the Labour vote was badly hit, the Tory vote collapsed to under 3000, losing their candidate her deposit. Thus the Tories face the very real prospect of being the next 'Heath government' with Miliband cast in the role of Harold Wilson - the parallels with the 1970s look more and more apt with each passing day!