Stuart McMillan on the 2012 UK budget and the implications it carries.
The Coalition’s second budget may well have already been forgotten by most, but it will perhaps mark historically the rise of the modern Conservative party; this budget will be remembered as the one where the battle lines were drawn.
What’s more, it indicates once and for all the cipher that the Liberal Democrats have become in Government. This time the implications of the budget spoke louder than the fiscal fact-bearing. Only one and a half of the Liberals’ original stipulations were carried into the budget. One: raising the threshold of income tax to £9,025 to be put into force in April 2013, many pundits seem to have overlooked, probably because it does not affect the majority of the public, but also because everybody feels that, no matter what Nick Clegg tries, he has already sold too much of his soul for anything to mitigate his unfavourable image.
The half: the introduction of stamp duty for properties over £2 million, is the finished evolution of the ‘Mansion Tax’, but it becomes ludicrous when one takes into account that the entire front bench has the means of avoiding such a duty, if not by renting their big country houses instead of buying them outright, then by hiring accountants who are good enough to fiddle their figures.
But the distaste for the budget runs deeper than that. This was a Conservative budget in the style of old: tax breaks for the wealthy, a clamp down on the middle-earners, and a few bones thrown to try and smooth it all out. Alas, Osborne’s repeated cry that ‘it is necessary’, closely followed by the classic, shout-it-out-loud-and-punch-the-air refrain, ‘we’re all in this together’ fell on deaf ears. Let’s examine why.
The first, and the more obvious, reason is that people no longer care. Unemployment remains on the rise, the economy has slowed, stopped, and even shrunk, and the good times that were promised through a supposed tightening of the Government’s belt have failed to materialise. The Coalition’s argument that they need more time to let the plan work is not good enough; eighteen months should have shown some signs of recovery. The fact that the reason why the Government requires more time is because by then the economic situation around the world may well have picked up is immaterial to a floating voter, or to anyone who has been hit by this budget.
However, it is the second reason that is the most important. The Conservatives never had any intention of putting out a fair budget, just as they had no intention of being ‘all in this together.’ What the recent budget shows is that the old Conservative Party; the real Conservative Party, of Thatcher, Major and Duncan-Smith is still all there (as if its supporters didn’t know it).
However Cameron tries to repaint the Tories, the old brickwork still peeks through- and it naturally will. People knew what to expect from the Tories until their big turnaround in New Labour’s dying years.
It is the classic problem of our times: centralisation of politics leads, inevitably, to public disaffection. How can the Conservatives be Conservatives and Labour be Labour when they are always trying so hard to be somebody else? The Liberal Democrats have learnt this to their detriment. Tribal politics is indeed dead in the old sense, but politics is tribal by nature. The budget is always tribal; affecting every stratum of the nation in a different way.
That is not to say that the Conservatives should just come clean and say what they believe, they would probably never have won the election if they had. But then again, if they made more of an effort not to show their past as discontinuous with their present – a mistake which New Labour worked very hard to avoid – and made their rhetoric fit their policies, rather than simply telling untruths, they might have got a majority. The election-winning voters are the C1 and C2 people that won it for them in ’79 and ’92 but who turned to Blair in ’97 because they felt that he would offer them a fresher outlook with a similar economic policy.
This budget has been an indication for the Government that you can only lie about certain things; to attempt to sit so horribly on both sides of the House, as they have in this budget, shows that it is not the most astute thing to do. The sooner they chuck the ‘we’re all in it together’ language, which they practically have, the sooner they can get on with the business of government: letting the rich do whatever they want, and keeping the poorer quiet. The North-East will moan, the south of Scotland will be a bastion of red, but who knows, a bit of conviction might mean that they could sweep the Midlands.
Mrs. Thatcher knew this much: tell the country what they want to hear – but be smart enough to let them think that what they’ve been promised matches up with what they get.
Image Credit- National Archives UK