Saturday, 21 March 2015

Do the Tories want to lose the election?

The Budget was not even a nine days' wonder.  Osborne's performance was that of the smug bully at a school debating society, devoid of substance and strong on arrogance and sneering.  The constant jibes at Miliband suggest strongly that the Tories don't want their policies to be scrutinised too closely.

This is probably a result of demonstrating quite how unpleasant a Tory government would be.  The reports from the Office for Budgetary Responsibility and the Institute for Fiscal Studies that always accompany the Budget make disquieting reading, which is doubtless why the Tories have resorted to smearing other parties.  Now that the Clarkson diversionary feint has run its course, expect nothing more than ad hominem attacks on Labour and the Liberal Democrats over the next seven weeks.  Tory policy has nothing to commend any active attempt to market it.

Gideon was working firmly on the smoke and mirrors principle of politics.  The announcement of devolution to the North for transport was nothing more than a pre-election gambit, talking up large prestige projects while the small print indicated nothing more than a feasibility study - which will probably come up with similar reality to last year's totem of rebuilding the railway line in Devon.  But by then the election will have been and gone, and the Tories will have scuttled back into their cynical redoubts.

It is axiomatic that a Budget well-received in the short-term is unlikely to be one that does any good.  The Lawson boom in 1989 is a precedent, but the Tories had three years to ditch Thatcher, the Poll Tax and undermine Labour.  Osborne's approach has been to pick off the likely target Tory groups, mainly the elderly and the stupid.  The removal of tax on some savings income is a gimmick that will diminish in impact as interest rates return to normal level, and the protection of the interests of pensioners above all other groups is a pure electoral manoeuvre.

As for the "Help To Buy ISA" this is both contemptible in its complete misdiagnosis of the housing crisis and stoking up existing problems, and in its cynical exploiting of the idea that even £30,000 will suffice for a deposit in much of the country by 2018, when the first of these state subsidies matures.  It would be better just to write cheques to the house builders, were it not for the fact that this would be recycling Tory party donations.

Where the undergrowth is thickest is where the most malignant policies are hidden.  Although Osborne was careful, the cuts are savage and deep-seated.  What is left of public provision will be further ravaged over the next five years - from a messianic desire to either sell off or eliminate social capital.  At the same time, there is a calculated risk to undermine the pension value of middle- and senior-ranking public servants through changes to the taxation treatment of pension contributions - exploiting envy that the systematic rape of the middle and working classes has not been shared evenly until now.  Cutting the welfare bill is code for further social and economic cleansing, and the Budget was ominously light on the detail around how the evasion and avoidance mountain would actually be tackled

Increasingly, it looks as though the Tories have either written off their chances of winning, or are waiting for something to turn up.  The lack of any talking-up of private sector performance, a result of the huge productivity gap that has opened up in this depression, and the desperate attempts to avoid discussion on the NHS underlines the bankruptcy of the conventional political response to the ongoing crisis in both the state and society.  Labour are just as bad in their preening that things wouldn't be quite as bad, while Danny Alexander's risible attempt to adopt the middle ground serves to emphasise that British politics cannot act as a mature channel to raise, explore and resolve issues.

In his chutzpah, Gideon cannot admit that much of post-2010 economic policy has been a failure and that more of the same will merely enshrine this.  Nobody is prepared to admit that services have to paid for, nor that there is an inter-generational obligation not best served by the current obsession with protecting the well-off, retired middle classes at the expense of the remainder of society.  Even raising these issues is treacherous Marxism in the eyes of the contemporary right.  The orthodoxy suggests that they will go down spouting the same patrician platitudes that have missed the opportunity to rebalance the economy and the geography of the country.

Someone commented, rather cynically, that the only difference between a Tory and a Kipper budget was that there was no reduction in the price of cigarettes.  The risible right doesn't really have any policies to offer going forward.  Osborne has set the stage for a campaign where all the difficult areas which require moral choice are swept under the carpet - it will be interesting to see whether it is only the SNP and the Greens who rise to the challenge of exposing his imperial nakedness, at least after the watershed.

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