George Osborne walks from 11 Downing Street to deliver his first budget. Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

Budget 2015: George Osborne steals Ed Miliband's clothes - but the body is still Tory

Ed Miliband got something in the budget after all - but the rest was throughly Conservative. 

George Osborne stole Ed Miliband's most popular tunes, but the record as a whole remained impeccably Conservative. Permanent non-domicile status will be abolished, while there will be a compulsory national "living wage" of £9 an hour by 2020 and 30 hours of free childcare for children aged 3 and 4. 

But beneath those headlines the picture is grim. The rise in the minimum wage to £7.20 is 65p short of the living wage today. The minimum wage is forecast to rise to that level by 2020 in any case. In reality what is being offered is a rebranded minium wage, not a real living wage.

The rest of the budget felt like a lengthy party political broadcast on behalf of the Liberal Democrats' influence in coalition. Cuts to housing benefits for 18-21 year olds will include exemptions for those leaving care but will hit people who, for one reason or another, find themselves ejected from the family home at 18. Those people lucky to be in the five per cent of British familes who pay inheritance tax will, however, recieve a boost in the shape of an increase in the inheritance tax threshold to £1m. 

Student maintenance grants will be converted to loans by 2017-8: students from poorer backgrounds will now have a larger debt burden than their wealthier peers. This is effectively the same as having two 40p rates: a 40p rate for people whose parents were also on the 40p rate, and a 41p rate for people whose parents were on basic rate or below. Working-age benefits - including in-work benefits - will be frozen for four years. ESA will be cut to the level of Jobseeker's Allowance, hitting disabled people both in and out of work to the tune of £30 a week. The benefit cap is lowered again, to £23,000 in London and £20,000 outside of it.

There was one dog than didn't bark: the 45p rate remains uncut. 

 

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

Getty
Show Hide image

Richmond is a wake-up call for Labour's Brexit strategy

No one made Labour stand in Richmond Park. 

Oh, Labour Party. There was a way through.

No one made you stand in Richmond Park. You could have "struck a blow against the government", you could have shared the Lib Dem success. Instead, you lost both your dignity and your deposit. And to cap it all (Christian Wolmar, take a bow) you self-nominated for a Nobel Prize for Mansplaining.

It’s like the party strategist is locked in the bowels of HQ, endlessly looping in reverse Olivia Newton John’s "Making a Good Thing Better".

And no one can think that today marks the end of the party’s problems on Brexit.

But the thing is: there’s no need to Labour on. You can fix it.

Set the government some tests. Table some amendments: “The government shall negotiate having regard to…”

  • What would be good for our economy (boost investment, trade and jobs).
  • What would enhance fairness (help individuals and communities who have missed out over the last decades).
  • What would deliver sovereignty (magnify our democratic control over our destiny).
  • What would improve finances (what Brexit makes us better off, individually and collectively). 

And say that, if the government does not meet those tests, the Labour party will not support the Article 50 deal. You’ll take some pain today – but no matter, the general election is not for years. And if the tests are well crafted they will be easy to defend.

Then wait for the negotiations to conclude. If in 2019, Boris Johnson returns bearing cake for all, if the tests are achieved, Labour will, and rightly, support the government’s Brexit deal. There will be no second referendum. And MPs in Leave voting constituencies will bear no Brexit penalty at the polls.

But if he returns with thin gruel? If the economy has tanked, if inflation is rising and living standards have slumped, and the deficit has ballooned – what then? The only winners will be door manufacturers. Across the country they will be hard at work replacing those kicked down at constituency offices by voters demanding a fix. Labour will be joined in rejecting the deal from all across the floor: Labour will have shown the way.

Because the party reads the electorate today as wanting Brexit, it concludes it must deliver it. But, even for those who think a politician’s job is to channel the electorate, this thinking discloses an error in logic. The task is not to read the political dynamic of today. It is to position itself for the dynamic when it matters - at the next general election

And by setting some economic tests for a good Brexit, Labour can buy an option on that for free.

An earlier version of this argument appeared on Jolyon Maugham's blog Waiting For Tax.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.