We await with baited breath a budget we are not suppose to understand by people who don’t want us to know what they’re doing and their pals who don’t want to get caught doing it.
It seems to me that budgets have become very much like films by Michael Bay (Transformers, Pearl Harbour, The Island) in that the only chance you have of surviving them is if you are capable of switching off all your critical faculties. Let me just run over some of the softening up work we face so far.
The minimum wage for young people is being slashed (which is what a freeze means when inflation has been nudging 5 per cent for half the year). For everyone else it is at best being squeezed or frozen. Public services which the less well-off in society rely on are being cut. People earning £150,000 are going to get a tax cut. And this is redistributive?
After three or four years of unrelenting looting of the public purse to gift stupendous amounts of money to super-powerful corporations, closing a small loophole on property taxes for the rich (but only if and when they buy or sell a house) is worthy of the compund-adjective ‘Robin Hood’?
Cutting tax on the rich will raise more money. This is predicated on idea like ‘the rich will use their accountants to avoid 50p tax rate but will pay up a 40p tax rate like honest citizens’. The arguments behind this only seem to me to work if you accept every assumption that makes it true and ignore every assumption that might make it not true. The fact there is no solid evidence for this ‘prediction’ must also be disregarded.
This will be balanced by the closing of tax loopholes. Of course, you and I will be able to follow progress on closing tax loopholes in an easy and straightforward way. That is because a highly visible blanket tax rate is very hard to assess for impact but complex changes to HRMC collection rules are the definition of transparency. OK, no they’re not. In fact we rely 100 per cent on the honesty of George Osborne to tell us just how had he has hit himself and his best friends and their tax-avoiding ways.
In any case, for this you have to accept the overall story – that the rich have the right to cheat the taxpayer by exploiting endless loopholes placed there mainly to help them avoid paying tax. If this is their right and we accept that tax doesn’t raise money despite no evidence to show that this is true then yes, why bother with a 50p tax rate? The answer being that in fact they have no right at all to steal from the public and we have no reason to believe the idea that tax doesn’t raise money.
This goes on and on. We’ll be given new growth predictions but the only thing certain is that whatever these prediction turn out to be (a) they will demonstrate that the Government is right in every regard and (b) they will turn out to be completely wrong and will be ‘revised’ in a matter of weeks. Breaking national bargaining is about helping poor workers, not weakening further the ability of workers to protect themselves through a trade union. And, above all, above everything else, Everything is Going to Be OK. Despite the fact that every (meaningful) international comparator seems to suggest the Treasury approach is the wrong one (meaningful because comparing the UK to Greece is facile). Everything is not going to be OK. Unless you earn more than £150,000 a year.
And then finally the Lib Dems. If they think that saying Robin Hood over and over will make us believe this isn’t a budget of Etonians, by Etonians, for Etonians. Whenever I hear them I think I’m mishearing. Simon Hughes seems to me to be incanting “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” But you can click the heels of your ruby-orange slippers all you want, you’re still in Oz. And that’s Wicked-Witch-Of-The-West Oz, not friendly Dorothy Oz.
But since my brain still works and since nothing-but-nothing looks like it is going to hinder the Tory onslaught on what’s left of social justice in Briatain, I’m going to do the only sensible thing. I’m going to ignore it all and volunteer in a soup kitchen.