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.

Photo: Getty
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Emmanuel Macron can win - but so can Marine Le Pen

Macron is the frontrunner, but he remains vulnerable to an upset. 

French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron is campaigning in the sixth largest French city aka London today. He’s feeling buoyed by polls showing not only that he is consolidating his second place but that the voters who have put him there are increasingly comfortable in their choice

But he’ll also be getting nervous that those same polls show Marine Le Pen increasing her second round performance a little against both him and François Fillon, the troubled centre-right candidate. Her slight increase, coming off the back of riots after the brutal arrest of a 22-year-old black man and Macron’s critical comments about the French empire in Algeria is a reminder of two things: firstly the potential for domestic crisis or terror attack to hand Le Pen a late and decisive advantage.  Secondly that Macron has not been doing politics all that long and the chance of a late implosion on his part cannot be ruled out either.

That many of his voters are former supporters of either Fillon or the Socialist Party “on holiday” means that he is vulnerable should Fillon discover a sense of shame – highly unlikely but not impossible either – and quit in favour of a centre-right candidate not mired in scandal. And if Benoît Hamon does a deal with Jean-Luc Mélenchon – slightly more likely that Fillon developing a sense of shame but still unlikely – then he could be shut out of the second round entirely.

What does that all mean? As far as Britain is concerned, a Macron or Fillon presidency means the same thing: a French government that will not be keen on an easy exit for the UK and one that is considerably less anti-Russian than François Hollande’s. But the real disruption may be in the PR battle as far as who gets the blame if Theresa May muffs Brexit is concerned.

As I’ve written before, the PM doesn’t like to feed the beast as far as the British news cycle and the press is concerned. She hasn’t cultivated many friends in the press and much of the traditional rightwing echo chamber, from the press to big business, is hostile to her. While Labour is led from its leftmost flank, that doesn’t much matter. But if in the blame game for Brexit, May is facing against an attractive, international centrist who shares much of the prejudices of May’s British critics, the hope that the blame for a bad deal will be placed solely on the shoulders of the EU27 may turn out to be a thin hope indeed.

Implausible? Don’t forget that people already think that Germany is led by a tough operator who gets what she wants, and think less of David Cameron for being regularly outmanoeuvered by her – at least, that’s how they see it. Don’t rule out difficulties for May if she is seen to be victim to the same thing from a resurgent France.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.