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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What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

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