The Death Knell Tolls…

23 04 2009

As the dust settles on one of the most unpopular budgets for a long time, the battered red briefcase waved by Chancellor Alistair Darling seems indicative of the Labour party itself. Battered and increasingly unpopular, the budget, along with the party, has proven to be far from the reassuring comfort that is needed during a time of economic plight. Instead we are told of, in the best case, simple hikes in the price of fuel and alcohol offset by a variety of incentives, and in the worst, a class war.

Now I’m not sure of the strength of the latter case, although it is easy to see where the critics are coming from with such a point. The increase in taxes to offset the substantial, and increasing debt is painful reading for most who happen to drive, drink, smoke and earn. The BBC’s simplistic calculator works out that I will be roughly £80 worse off next year, if all else remains constant.

Reading various responses to Darling’s budget has been interesting, those left-wing writers, whilst stopping short of praising the whole thing, do at least champion the case for taking money from the rich. Polly Toynbee in the Guardian writes that “Taxation is the only easy way to restore a very small measure of sanity to the unjust rewards of the rich” and such a view is supported by Jonathan Freeland, who tells goes on to tell us that “Darling’s wasn’t a swashbuckling performance, but under almost impossible circumstances it was surely the best that could be done“. The general concurrance is that Darling has reignited the embers of a dying class fire. There seems to be an acceptance now of the impending fate of this government. The measures have been put in place. The legacy has been left, and the pieces are there to be picked up by a Conservative government. This may not have been inspiring stuff, but politically and tactically it was marvellous. In years to come historians will look at this budget as the beginning of the left-wing fightback, begun before they had even been removed from office.

Naturally the right-wing are up in arms about the budget. The right-wing focus lies away from the class issues though. For those on the right side of the fence there is a simple problem. The numbers don’t add up. For Jeff Randell of the Telegraph, melodramatism conveys the point: “A ball-and-chain of spirit-sapping debt has been clamped to the nation’s future“, and this is taken further by Camilla Cavendish in The Times (incidentally the only newspaper for which you need capitalise “The”) who wrote “we got growth forecasts that were fantasy even by forecast standards“. And the point is a good one. The figures, from the guy who is meant to be in charge of this sort of stuff do not seem right, and do not fall into line with any forecasts by other equally (if not better) qualified people. 2032 is the early estimate of when things might return to a ‘normal’ level. That’s if we haven’t destroyed ourselves in a nuclear rage induced by poor stock markets.

For the Tories, there is little they can do. The acceptance seems well spread. Labour are burning out. They seem to be resigned to losing the next election and this budget has done nothing but add to this feeling. The Tories just have to maintain their course. They do not need to over-react, nor, it seems, do they need substantial policy. They just need to be there for the country when Labour has proven itself not to be. This will come within the next year and the General Election. Then there is the trouble of picking up what has been left. The long term game is being played here, by both parties. Labour’s game has just begun, but for the Tories, plan A (which generally has involved letting Labour burn themselves completely) quickly needs replacing, otherwise the “oh crap, what the hell do we do now” sketch will write itself all too easily when David Cameron steps through the doors of Number 10 as the country’s leader.

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