Budget 2013: where are the ideas?

Stumped for inspiration.

The spotlight is firmly on George Osborne. In 48 hours, he’ll deliver a budget amid economic flatlining and public volatility which, if it fails, will result in calls for the Chancellor’s head as he’s only created 0.7 per cent growth during his entire 34 month tenure.

That’s alarming as there’s a frightening lack of ideas in Wednesday’s shenanigans. The leaks so far suggest that Mark Carney targeting growth or unemployment is the most revolutionary policy that we can expect; yet isn’t creating a Deputy Chancellorship more about spreading the blame come the 2015 election than sparking a second industrial revolution?

As a British citizen, I find the whole episode deeply disappointing. The country’s back is against the wall and so the public are desperate for a politician to try something new. Yet all the House of Commons offers is supply side economics versus demand side economics, a yawningly repetitious argument which isn’t simply Osborne’s fault: it’s Cable’s, as Business Secretary, it’s Balls’, as Shadow Chancellor, it’s the mandarins’, it's academia’s, it’s all of our fault.

Yes, the next few days will be marked by political manoeuvring – Labour will, for example, scream about Osborne playing to the rich by chopping corporation tax from 28p to 21p and giving 13,000 millionaires a £100,000 tax cut – yet the focus should be on the failure in the collective imagination.

The UK is crying out for fresh ideas and so more news time should be given to the likes of Douglas Carswell MP, who, in the Guardian, is quoted as calling for a dramatic reduction in Whitehall which would allow for £26bn in tax cuts, including cutting corporation tax to 11 per cent and capital gains tax to 0 per cent.

You may think the policies are barmy, but at least they’re different. Given the established thinking has produced little more than an economic murmur, pungent debate is needed.

This article first appeared on Spear's.

Photograph: Getty Images

Freddy Barker writes for Spear's.

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How the shadow cabinet forced Jeremy Corbyn not to change Labour policy on Syria air strikes

Frontbenchers made it clear that they "would not leave the room" until the leader backed down. 

Jeremy Corbyn had been forced to back down once before the start of today's shadow cabinet meeting on Syria, offering Labour MPs a free vote on air strikes against Isis. By the end of the two-hour gathering, he had backed down twice.

At the start of the meeting, Corbyn's office briefed the Guardian that while a free would be held, party policy would be changed to oppose military action - an attempt to claim partial victory. But shadow cabinet members, led by Andy Burnham, argued that this was "unacceptable" and an attempt to divide MPs from members. Burnham, who is not persuaded by the case for air strikes, warned that colleagues who voted against the party's proposed position would become targets for abuse, undermining the principle of a free vote.

Jon Ashworth, the shadow minister without portfolio and NEC member, said that Labour's policy remained the motion passed by this year's conference, which was open to competing interpretations (though most believe the tests it set for military action have been met). Party policy could not be changed without going through a similarly formal process, he argued. In advance of the meeting, Labour released a poll of members (based on an "initial sample" of 1,900) showing that 75 per cent opposed intervention. 

When Corbyn's team suggested that the issue be resolved after the meeting, those present made it clear that they "would not leave the room" until the Labour leader had backed down. By the end, only Corbyn ally Diane Abbott argued that party policy should be changed to oppose military action. John McDonnell, who has long argued for a free vote, took a more "conciliatory" approach, I'm told. It was when Hilary Benn said that he would be prepared to speak from the backbenches in the Syria debate, in order to avoid opposing party policy, that Corbyn realised he would have to give way. The Labour leader and the shadow foreign secretary will now advocate opposing positions from the frontbench when MPs meet, with Corbyn opening and Benn closing. 

The meeting had begun with members, including some who reject military action, complaining about the "discorteous" and "deplorable" manner in which the issue had been handled. As I reported last week, there was outrage when Corbyn wrote to MPs opposing air strikes without first informing the shadow cabinet (I'm told that my account of that meeting was also raised). There was anger today when, at 2:07pm, seven minutes after the meeting began, some members received an update on their phones from the Guardian revealing that a free vote would be held but that party policy would be changed to oppose military action. This "farcical moment", in the words of one present (Corbyn is said to have been unaware of the briefing), only hardened shadow cabinet members' resolve to force their leader to back down - and he did. 

In a statement released following the meeting, a Corbyn spokesperson confirmed that a free vote would be held but made no reference to party policy: 

"Today's Shadow Cabinet agreed to back Jeremy Corbyn's recommendation of a free vote on the Government's proposal to authorise UK bombing in Syria.   

"The Shadow Cabinet decided to support the call for David Cameron to step back from the rush to war and hold a full two day debate in the House of Commons on such a crucial national decision.  

"Shadow Cabinet members agreed to call David Cameron to account on the unanswered questions raised by his case for bombing: including how it would accelerate a negotiated settlement of the Syrian civil war; what ground troops would take territory evacuated by ISIS; military co-ordination and strategy; the refugee crisis and the imperative to cut-off of supplies to ISIS."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.