The Tory benches cheered, the Labour frontbench booed, the SNP reminded us they were there: yes, it was pantomime in Parliament yet again yesterday, with a budget pre-trailed to the point that many of us could have had a stab at announcing it ourselves. What was more interesting was what wasn’t in it: a genuine plan to fix Britain’s structural problems.
Instead, apparently inspired by the recent Oscar winner, we got a budget of tinkering with everything, everywhere, all at once. Corporation Tax is up – but you can write some of it with a fiddly capital expensing scheme, but it’s only open for three years. Research and development credits were axed – and replaced with a 27p in the pound voucher. Tax cuts for the film and TV industry; tax hikes for punters who enjoy a whisky; tax cuts for drinking a pint in the pub, but tax hikes for smokers. It is incoherent, untargeted, unclear in its direction.
Commentators say it’s ‘sensible’ and nobody can find too much to dislike, but by God does it fail to inspire. There were days way back in the coalition when journalists and City watchers used to deride George Osborne for citing a “long term economic plan.” Goodness knows we could do with one now.
The Conservatives have learnt the wrong lesson from the carnage on bond markets triggered by Liz Truss’ mini-budget. It wasn’t the tax-cut, growth-inducing policies that were the problem – it was the timing, coming alongside a poorly-targeted energy price cap which had energy prices continued climbing would have left the government with almost unlimited liability. It may not be the time for Truss-redux yet, but it is at least time to ditch the scared-of-our-own-shadow approach.
No, no, no. Even the good stuff, like unlocking capital from our pension funds to fund infrastructure programs and UK start-ups, has been kicked into Autumn. Another disappointment, and the Tories don’t have many chances left.