By Joe Mellor, Deputy Editor
If you change your mind on something because of external pressure does that mean you have done the right thing, or have you been forced into it?
For example, hypothetically, if I decided to slash my neighbour’s tyres for mowing their lawn on Saturday morning, but my girlfriend told me repeatedly it was an excessive resposne, and she might leave me if I did; I’d change my mind. Have I now done the honourable thing? For me it’s a no, you can make up your own mind.
Well that is basically what had happened today during the spending review; The Lords, Labour, the public and his own MPs, forced Osborne into binning tax credit cuts. Not reducing them…cancelling them.
He also said he would not to cut police budgets, but if the Paris attacks hadn’t taken place, I would be pretty confident there would be thousands less coppers on the street. When these last minute changes are made, I wonder how the decisions are agreed upon; I’m guessing it’s not as scientific as you would hope. Paper, scissor, stone between Transport and Environment might settle it.
The tax credit U-turn may well have calmed unsettled Tories MPs, but there were audible gasps when the Chancellor told the house about a stamp duty increase for buy-to-let properties (which also applies to second homes). This might annoy Tory constituents, more than the tax credit cuts, in solid Conservative areas. According to the Telegraph unmarried couples will be able to avoid this; expect the divorce rate in Chalfont St Giles to spike over the next few months.
The Chancellor has been lucky, there are historically low interest rates so no major tax rises (ok a few cheeky stealth taxes – there always are) and the OBR has “remodeled” a lot of tax income measures, which lo and behold have given the government more money in the pot. Coincidentally some of this magic money is going to into a pothole fund; which got the loudest cheer in the chamber today.
Gideon also announced he wants to build 400,000 homes, but it isn’t clear that homebuilders have the time or the talent to do this. There is huge a shortage of bricklayers for example. It is doubtful this target can be met, but given his love for a high-vis photo opportunity; maybe Osborne could lend a hand.
However, there may be a way out of this construction quagmire, Osborne also said he is closing HMP Holloway. Perhaps we could cram everyone who needs a home into there, it can’t be any worse than it is now.
There were a few interesting small print alerts that emerged afterwards, there will be cuts to funding for political parties hitting Labour hardest, which is a surprise, and London will bear the brunt of transport cuts; to teach those militant strikers a lesson, perhaps?
Of course there will be more hidden problems and a pasty shaped mishap here and there, but overall it wasn’t the austerity doomsday some were predicating. The question is why didn’t he use the increase tax take and predicted growth to cut the deficit as much as possible, “fixing the roof when the sun is shining,” as is his mantra.
To some degree his statement protected public services, which goes against all he has said since the beginning of his tenure. Maybe he knows how much these cuts hurt, and in fact this wasn’t a chancellor’s speech, but a future Prime Minister’s. He knows the electorate isn’t going to vote for the bogeyman.
As ever quite a lot of things annoyed me today, but what stood out was his new phrase “Midlands engine” to accompany “Northern powerhouse.” His party might have decimated the renewable energy sector but his own wind power could probably plug the gap. I’d happily slash his tyres just for coming up with that phrase.