At least we were prepared for the worst. David Cameron and George Osborne, as soon as they had unpacked their bags at their plush Downing Street abode, spouted forth about the terrible mess that Labour had left them in, like a replacement plumber tutting at the state of his predecessor’s work. “Look at this, an extra £20bn in the structural deficit. Tut. You really should have let the professionals sort it out. I’m not going to be able to get the spare parts I need until Wednesday, is that OK”.
“Not really, the financial markets are cacking themselves, we need it done immediately”.
“Well, if you insist I can put some calls in”.
So Osborne stood outside 11 Downing Street holding the battered red Ministerial Box, knowing that he was about to unleash the forces of hell.
His Emergency Budget speech, which I listened to on Radio 4, was not nearly as good as Gordon Brown’s speeches when he was Chancellor. Brown’s thundering boom contrasts against Osborne’s public school squeak, which threatens to go high-pitched with every other sentence. My theory is that he’s still going through puberty.
“Now listen George, Mummy wants a word. You may start getting some funny urges and feelings in the next few years, but they are perfectly natural. Taking money from the poor is normal behaviour, especially if you’re a Tory. I’ll leave a box of tissues on your bedside table, you might need them. Especially when you’re ejected from office and no-one can even be bothered to spare you a handkerchief to cry into”.
After announcing that NHS spending and International Development would be spared the worst of the cuts, ‘Boy George’ said each department’s budget would be cut by around 25 per cent in the Spending Review, which is to be headed by Danny Alexander, who was Scottish Secretary until two weeks ago. David Laws, the original Chief Secretary to the Treasury, had to step down after he was discovered to have abused MPs expenses by not declaring his landlord was also his partner.
That’s the joy with the Liberal Democrats; they bring something completely new to the table. Nick Clegg may want you to think that his party brings social justice and fairness to the coalition, but what his cabal of 57 MPs really offer is another minefield of infidelity. Laws immediately resigned after the affair was exposed in The Daily Telegraph even though everyone in the coalition, including top Tories, said he was “born for the job” and would be “greatly missed”.
It must be a poor reflection on the man if the job he was “born” to carry out is to cut public services and cull jobs, with the possibility that his actions may lead to a double-dip recession. It would be like arriving for your first day working at the abattoir and having a mad-eyed lunatic in blood-splattered overalls tell you “God put thou on this pleasant land to perform thy duties”.
As is so often with political scandals, just as everyone was getting over Laws and his landlord boyfriend, another one comes along. Chris Huhne, another Lib Dem given a place in the coalition’s Cabinet as Energy Secretary, has left his wife of 26 years after confessing to an affair with a PR girl who may or may not be a lesbian. Clearly Huhne took the wrong brief for his “Energy” post in government and put all his energy into his affair instead of finding sustainable fuel or debating the merits of nuclear power stations.
So, in more than a month since the coalition was born, two of the five senior Lib Dems promoted to Cabinet have been involved in scandals. Even the Tories never reached such high levels of sleaze, which is currently running at 40 per cent.
As I said, Alexander is now Chief Secretary to the Treasury, which means in one year’s time, he’ll be the target on dartboards across the country as he axes programmes and schemes everyone holds dear. It does at least show the Tories have embraced socially disadvantaged groups. Baroness Warsi is the first ethnic minority in a Conservative government and Alexander is ginger, looking like a red-headed Archie the inventor from Balamory, only slightly more annoying.
I’d feel sorry for the Lib Dems if they hadn’t jumped so quickly into the Tory’s bed. Cameron enticed Clegg with some of his best chat-up lines. “Grab your coat, Nick, you’ve pulled; we can scrap ID cards together. Your place or mine?” and “If ever I needed proof that the sky was missing a star, I would only have to look at you… and your party’s commitment to reversing the National Insurance tax hike”.
Explaining the Lib Dem sell-out to anxious party members must be like explaining cannibalism to someone being slowly roasted on a spit-fire. Clegg must be prepared for the worst at the Lib Dem party conference this September. “Why have I made sure this party will never hold power again, despite being unable to gain any serious concessions on the electoral system? Erm, dunno. But have you seen my Deputy Prime Minister’s office. It’s massive! I have two people working for me. Two! I don’t even need to go out to get my lunch anymore, I just ask Samantha to fetch me a Subway from across the road”.
On to the Budget. Osborne claimed the measures taken were “progressive”, a term which means the richest must shoulder the greatest share of the debt burden. When Labour’s already announced savings are stripped from the Budget, it becomes the opposite. The Institute for Fiscal Studies stated that taken on their own, the coalition’s policies are “regressive”, citing the VAT tax rise to 20 per cent as one of the worst offenders.
Capital Gains Tax has been raised, but only just. The Daily Telegraph’s campaign to keep CGT at 18 per cent must have worked, as the small rise of 10 per cent will only affect high earners. The newspaper’s campaign is called “Hands off our assets”, a small piece of innuendo apparently taken from the film ‘Carry On Cutting the Deficit’.
But you only pay CGT if you sell your second home or shares. Commentators on the right tried to dress up a potential rise as affecting the middle-class. But with the median wage of Britain currently running at around £23,000, how can middle-income families be seriously affected? On £23,000 a year, it’s hard enough to afford the mortgage on one house, let alone two. And how many people on an average wage own shares? The campaign was a cynical attempt to portray a tax that will raise money solely from the rich as a major enemy of free enterprise.
The Tories have only been in charge a month, yet it feels like a lifetime.
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This post was written by Chris Mason-Felsing