The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Labour’s Last Budget. For Now.

Posted by The Futility Monster on March 24, 2010 @ 11:43

The end of Darling, perhaps? The possibilities of the next few months are varied and exciting!

So here we are again. Another non-eventful Budget Day. After all, with comprehensive spending rounds, ordinary spending reviews, pre-Budget Reports and endless briefing and leaking, hardly any of what we hear today will be a surprise.

To fill the void, the networks have to do something. Invariably, this is endless speculation, combined with the classic “let’s visit a marginal constituency and do some random vox pops”. And, naturally, the “average family” will have their numbers crunched, and discover that the rise in price of wine is going to plunge them into deficit for financial year 10/11.

That’s all I’ve witnessed so far, in my flicking between BBC and Sky News. And now, the liveblog, as it happened, in chronological order…

11:42 – BBC talking to someone who set up business during a recession. Madness, said the reporter. Sounds about right, from my experience!

11:45 – Kay Burley emoting on Sky News as she feeds the ducks. Tragic.

11:53 – thoughts now turning to PMQs. David Cameron has an open goal today with the latest Labour sleaze allegations. But Brown will deflect because of the sole dodgy Tory in the mix. And then accuse him of not talking about policy. Net result will be lots of sound bites, lots of guffawing, lots of interventions from Mr Speaker… but no change in the polls. No one cares.

11:57 – Sky News in analysis mode. BBC News in “emotive strings over graphics mode” showing the economic changes since 1997. Guess which one I’ve got on…

12:01 – PMQs underway with the usual tributes to the fallen. That’s the cue to switch to BBC Parliament for uninterrupted coverage. I find the “commentary” interjections on BBC2 rather irritating.

12:02 – this faff over defence spending is appallingly dull. Inter-year spending, who cares. The general trend is indeed a real terms rise. Splitting hairs from politicians, what a surprise.

12:05 – Cameron begins with a tedious joke about today’s civil servants strike. This stuff doesn’t resonate, as we all know, but we do it anyway.

12:06 – gold sales for question 2. Pretty hard to know where the top of the market is. I suspect we can go back centuries and work out where gold sales lost the country money. Fucking load of rubbish.

12:07 – Cameron persists, refocusing on Labour trying to cover up their incompetence. Better line, but Brown deflects again.

12:09 – Question 4, Cameron carrying on. He should have given up. There must be other issues to talk about. Oh my.

12:10 – Question 5, Cameron delivering the soundbites, the same things he’s repeated for years now. Another joke. Killing time. No question. Brown gets his chance to redeliver every sound bite he’s already said about Labour’s “success” over the years. Cameron has lost badly here. No Question 6? Maybe I miscounted…

12:12 – Nick Clegg gets his turn. Going on political corruption, the great elephant in the room. Accusing the others of blocking reform. Brown going softly. He knows what the polls are saying. Hung parliament, anyone?

12:13 – Clegg’s second go is the laundry list of failed attempts to remove corruption. Silly Tory MPs continue shouting about “Michael Brown” as they have for weeks now. Yes, let’s fling shit and ignore the failures of this Parliament.

12:15 – whip’s handout questions shall now commence.

12:17 – Gordon Brown can’t wait to be remembered for the result of the next election, apparently. I share his excitement about what lies ahead!

12:19 – Brown repeats his warning about the poor behaviour of the Tories regarding the BA cabin crew strike. It’s not becoming of a future government. No one wants another government antagonising the unions.

12:20 – sounds like mephedrone is to be banned before the election. Hmm…

12:23 – it’s curious how Bob Spink has become a real backer of Gordon Brown since his departure from the Tory Party.

12:27 – PMQs petering out. Alistair Darling is itching to go…

12:30 – Ian Paisley getting a swansong, in which he even referred to Norn Iron as “the North of Ireland”. Gerry Adams would be pleased. Unless I misheard again. Could hear a pindrop in the House. Brown offers glowing tribute.

12:32 – Budget underway. Speaker makes way for the Chairman of Ways and Means. Hurrah.

12:34 – Alistair Darling giving himself and his government a pat on the back for guiding the economy through and out of recession. This is going to be the Labour line in the election.

12:35 – Darling’s introduction promises a few billion of goodies.

12:37 – Budget Days are all about narrative. Darling has just set out his stall as to how the British economy has weathered the storm. No measures announced yet.

12:39 – it is disappointing that the government will not pledge to keep one of the banks we own in public hands. The sector needs to be kept honest. Darling pledges any future sell offs will recoup all money invested. That was always going to be the case, but the headlines have always been about what the government was “losing” by nationalising these banks.

12:42 – Darling sticking to his guns on an international tax agreement on banking. Attacking the Tory line of Britain doing it unilaterally. Darling is right, but will the agreement happen?

12:45 – Darling using this free airtime as a chance to deliver a party political broadcast. Politicians never miss an opportunity, do they.

12:47 – joyous talk about automatic stablisers, without the word being mentioned. Lots of tinkering with tax credits underway. Talk of retirement age limits and young people’s unemployment. Hmm.

12:49 – the numbers are flowing thick and fast now. These minor little tinkerings don’t sound much, but they are going to make a difference to the things Labour can say in the campaign. Stamp duty is the big change here. First time buyers getting a big help…

12:51 – Labour backbenches enjoying the stamp duty change, with a redistribution of the tax on houses over £1m. Tories enjoying the fact that the policy has been stolen from them. ISAs now getting some adjustments to encourage more saving.

12:52 – the forecasts, what everyone wants to hear. How optimistic is the pessimistic Darling going to be? Answer: not very. A minor adjustment to next year. This year unchanged. The future is bright, says the Chancellor. Well, he didn’t, but he could have.

12:55 – now the borrowing numbers. Darling talks about the greater tax take he’s enjoyed lately. Borrowing forecast this year down. Lots of jeers, naturally; these numbers are still high.

12:57 – still many years of borrowing to come. Darling pledges Labour will indeed achieve the deficit halving pledge in the next several years. But there’s no numbers yet as to how on Earth this deficit cut is achieved. Spending cuts, for sure. But he’s not admitting it. Tory frontbench frantically crunching numbers for their response.

13:00 – spending cuts mentioned. Of course, no cutting “now”, which implies lots of cutting later. It has to be, in order to achieve the deficit reduction strategy.

13:01 – tax rises being mentioned, but they’ve all been announced before. Darling insisting these tax rises are not “ideological”. “Those who have benefited the most from the growth should now contribute” – or words to that effect.

13:02 – “sin tax” changes underway. Alcohol and cigarettes taking a little pounding, but particularly cider. Put the Scrumpy Jack away.

13:03 – inheritance tax thresholds to be frozen for the next four years. Very good. Darling clearly aiming that one at the Tories.

13:06 – Darling is apparently going to deliver a range of goodies in the public services over the next few years. But no real cuts to the budgets have been announced. This is voodoo economics.

13:07 – Darling is deferring most of the tough decision to after the election, in the Comprehensive Spending Review. The only thing he’s prepared to talk about is “efficiency savings” and waste. The magic bullet. It’ll never happen.

13:09 – Lots of public sector staff in jeopardy; definitely going to be moved out of London, at least. The bad part about it: endless civil service jaunts to London at taxpayer’s expense for “meetings”. A wave of privatisations is to begin too, by the sounds of it.

13:11 – now discussing growth, and how that will help cure all our financial woes. But just how much consumption can the world sustain? Bye bye, environment.

13:13 – goodies for investing in businesses. A public “investment bank” by the sounds of it. Sounds a bit like a Lib Dem idea, except I think we wanted it to be “green”.

13:18 – lots more investment in public infrastructure underway. That’s a lot of money. But it’s essential, really, if we’re to have any hope of sustaining economic growth in the future. Good old cost-benefit analysis.

13:20 – the broadband tax is confirmed.

13:21 – not a long Budget speech, by any means, but we’re now into the usual ending territory of recent years. But no signs of a finish yet.

13:22 – special attention going to be paid to the computer games sector. That is impressive; the pols have spotted how much money this sector could make the economy through its massive exporting (USA, Far East, Europe). They never miss a trick, do they.

13:24 – Darling insists universities are going to foot the bill for the rising amount of students.

13:26 – Ashcroft is implied as Darling talks about tax avoidance/evasion. Labour benches loving it, especially an agreement with Belize on tax dodging. Cameron/Osborne refusing to look up from their furious scribbling. Labour MPs very excited, begging for more.

13:29 – creeping up to an hour, and Darling is releasing the goodies now, pension increases, child tax credits, personal tax allowances for the old dears (who vote) going up, Winter Fuel payment to be sustained at the higher levels of recent years. We Love Pensioners! Especially Those Who Vote Labour!

13:30 – think it’s ending, with more political posturing. Laying out the election choice. Think Darling has done a decent job, but we’ll see what Osborne has to say…

13:32 – Tories in feisty mood. Cameron taking credit for the stamp duty cut.

13:33 – Cameron, freed from the shackles of having to ask questions, is going on the big messages. Perhaps that’s why he didn’t bother at PMQs.

13:35 – going at a rate of knots. Spending, cuts, deficits, debt, bloat, taxes, Britain closed for business. Cameron calling for an election to put Labour out of their misery.

13:36 – Cameron’s Budget Bashing is well underway. The numbers they’ve been scribbling down are all flowing out. It’s all good for the cameras, but is anyone listening? The end soundbites are what we’re after. They will indicate where we’re going in the next six weeks…

13:39 – Tories are cheered up by Cameron’s jokes. But not by the numbers. Feigned indignation all round.

13:40 – a few years ago Cameron did a Budget response that was impetuous and arrogant. This is reminding me of it.

13:41 – Cameron hurling allegations at Brown and Darling about their forthcoming consultancy fees. Childish.

13:43 – Tories planning on giving more power to quangos, a new one to manage budgeting forecasts. Oh dear.

13:45 – here come the soundbites. They’re being rattled off at incredible speed. Lots of one-liners too. I think William Hague wrote this Budget response.

13:46 – Cameron promising a radical change of direction. New leadership, new energy… stirring stuff to the Tory benches. It’s not gonna be that easy for him.

13:47 – Clegg’s turn. A reminder of the government’s failure. BBC and Sky News have abandoned Mr Clegg’s response, to be shown later. Isn’t it just as well the coverage rules change when the election begins?

13:49 – Clegg pointing out the lack of detail on spending cuts. Spot on.

13:50 – Clegg won’t spend on a “like for like” replacement of Trident. That’s not the same as not spending on a nuclear ‘deterrent’ at all.

13:53 – 8m economically inactive, says Clegg. Does that include people like me, able to sit around writing about a Budget that no one cares about, to no readers? 🙂

13:55 – Clegg rattling through his statement too. Perhaps he’s worked out no one is watching.

13:57 – the message on tax thresholds is going to be the Lib Dems’ big message at the election. Fairness to be the central idea. I just hope it’s all fully costed, or it will unravel very quickly at a time when the nation will be paying the most attention to us.

13:58 – Clegg concludes, “this Budget is the old politics”. Maybe. And there was the sound bite for the news programs, if they ever show it.

14:01 – Mandy in his usual form on BBC News. Looking forward to outlining his package of savings, it seems.

14:03 – Mandy and Iain Duncan Smith arguing very forcefully with each other. Charles Kennedy trying to pin down Mandelson, but he’s a slippery character…

14:05 – BBC journos enjoying tearing the fine detail of the Budget apart. This is going to happen over the next few days; can Labour survive it? Previous Budget experience would suggest not.

14:08 – Nick Robinson emphasising the pointlessness of this Budget. Hey, I told you that at the start of this post!

14:17 – with the BBC and Sky News now in full pointlessness mode, regarding how the Budget affects YOU and what your tweets have to say about it, that seems a good point to conclude.

Overall, the whole damn thing might as well have been a pre-recorded election statement. Budgets don’t really have the allure they used to. No major goodies, but a few things to talk about. Meanwhile, the Tories and Lib Dems will be able to carry on hammering their usual messages.

Roll on May 6.

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