Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Greenwash Budget

My prediction of the headline description in tomorrow's press.

The Chancellor spent the first 30 minutes of his speech covering up the cracks in the economy. I don't have the benefit of the Red Book in front of me, but I had the distinct impression that Darling was careful in his use of start and end dates in presenting his rosy view of UK performance under Labour, and in the careful selection of actual and inflation-adjusted cash figures.

Even the "green" announcements, which Darling no doubt hopes will attract most attention, consisted mainly of more targets (with no action to back them up). There will be no tax on plastic bags (which the Republic of Ireland has had for years), merely the threat of one if the supermarkets don't put a satisfactory spin on their voluntary schemes.

Some good strikes by David Cameron, but he was shooting into an open goal. (There, a trite metaphor to match the ones he delivered today, no doubt prepared in advance.)

Nick Clegg's response was more low-key, but concentrated on the real impact of the budget on actual people, especially those on low incomes. (I have a particular gripe about the overdue, and inadequate, increase in the winter fuel allowance.)

The two budget responses were complementary, almost as if the two opposition leaders' research teams had conspired beforehand. ;-)

There were some notable omissions from Darling's overview; what will be the impact on future spending of the national identity database? of military activity in Iraq and Afghanistan?

More importantly for us in Wales, and for the Scots, there was no acknowledgement that the devolved budget settlement, the Barnett formula, is bust and needs to be replaced.

[Later] The increases in alcohol duty were clearly signalled when the PR attack on binge drinking was launched earlier this year. The fact that Darling hasn't targeted the most offending drinks, or shown any sign of curbing the supermarkets, through whom he derives the bulk of excise duty on booze, shows that this was purely a tax-raising measure.

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