BUDGET - Dry, Depressing and Bearing all the hallmarks of another Chancellor. (March 12th)
North Thanetís MP, Roger Gale, has today (Wednesday 12th March) described Alastair Darling's first budget speech as predictably dry and depressing and bearing all of the hall marks of a budget written by the previous Chancellor and now Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.
"Nobody should be remotely surprised by the quality and tone of this budget" says Roger Gale. "Many of the measures are re-announcements of matters contained within the autumn statement or trailed by Brown while he was still Chancellor and much of the pain, such as the abolition of the 10% income tax rate, will be introduced on 1st April. I am pleased that a measure to rescue Gift Aid from tax changes and therefore to benefit charities has been announced but much of the rest, including environmental issues seems to have been left to "consultation now and action, perhaps, later". Tinkering with duty on alcohol and road fund tax is not going to solve our long-term problems. Even the much-trailed action on plastic shopping bags has been kicked into touch until next year!
Brown's much-vaunted reputation for financial prudence is in tatters as both borrowing and taxation are rising. No amount of massaging of the figures is going to disguise the fact that the cost of living is rising faster than incomes and that, as a result, people are in very real day-to-day terms worse off. With food prices at a record high and mortgage, domestic fuel and petrol prices on the rise it is no revelation that there are more than twice as many (4.4million based on Energywatch figures) people living in fuel poverty than there were three years ago.
Our budget deficit is the largest in Western Europe, the institutions that underpin our banking have failed, the Northern Rock fiasco has undermined confidence in the UK as a financial centre and the IMF says that the UK slowdown will be twice as great as in other major (G7) economies.
Against this backdrop Chancellor Darling has been shackled by Brown's failures and has once again tried to hide behind the fig leaf of the "US subprime housing market". The fact is that while we do now live in a global financial village very many of our economic problems are home-grown and not imported.
In the good times inherited from the last Conservative Chancellor, Brown did not fix the roof while the sun was shining. Now the cold rain is pouring in! The big question at Westminster today has to be "was Darling's first budget also his last?"