Autumn Statement: All shades of Tory blue have contributed to unremitting failure – Brian Wilson
The trick is to pretend there has been a change of government – yes, another one. Now decisions are in the hands of emollient leaders, seeking only to reverse failings of the past. Trust us for we know about money is an age-old Tory message.
Mr Hunt presented himself as a new kid on the block. He is nothing of the sort. Apart from the Johnson interregnum, he has been a prominent Cabinet figure since 2010. He is part of the problem, now masquerading as the solution.
In various guises, the Tories have been in power for 12 years. The state of the economy is of their making, hugely exacerbated by the ideological stupidity of Brexit while the Truss folly lit the fuse. But all this came from only one political source – the party of Hunt, Johnson and Truss.
Most MPs who cheered Hunt this week were lauding Kwarteng two months ago. We know the new Chancellor had to undo this extreme recent damage but there is still such a thing as collective responsibility. For one lot of Tories to plead it was all the fault of other Tories is scarcely a defence – or shouldn’t be.
There are no grounds for thinking they’ve got it right this time. Taxes will rise at record rates. Living standards will fall by seven per cent a year. The middle classes as well as the lower orders will be hit in a way that had the Daily Mail front-page screaming: “Tories Soak the Strivers.”
Comparisons with George Osborne’s austerity budget of 2010 are misleading. Then there were well-funded public services after 13 years of Labour government. The NHS was in a good place. Child poverty had declined by historic margins. From a right-wing perspective, this meant there was fat to slash. None of these pre-conditions exists today.
On the credit side, Sunak and Hunt maintained the triple lock on pensions, to avoid riots in their heartlands, and linked benefits to inflation. But people at the lower end of the economic scale also depend disproportionately on public services and benefits alone will not protect them from additional hardships, promised for years to come.
Budgets – or economic statements – have a notorious habit of unravelling in the days that follow back-slapping in the House of Commons. This one will be no different. The impacts will slowly seep in and increases in pensions and benefits will not arrive ’til next April by which time energy bills will also have landed.
By then, it is unlikely Mr Hunt will be seen as any kind of saviour from past misdeeds rather than just another Tory Chancellor – the fourth in four years – who has got it wrong, as measured by living standards or general health of economy. It will then be a further year until the electorate has its say.
The message to be maintained throughout is that all shades of Tory blue have contributed to unremitting failure. As in the past after prolonged Tory rule, Britain needs a radically different philosophy to move our society forward. Only one political force can offer that and, like it or not, it is Labour.
In Scotland, there must be transparency about where the extra £1.25 billion in Barnett consequentials from this week’s announcements will go. “Must be” – and probably won’t be. I’d still like know what happened to the £800 million windfall that landed in April from the ScotWind licences!
The Supreme Court ruling will doubtless provoke fresh referendum foot-stamping. More than ever, however, this week’s events confirm that for Scotland as much as anywhere, the dire need is to replace a failed, floundering Tory government while politics around the constitution offer only a dead-end diversion.
For its part, Labour must continue to build credibility and challenge the values inherent in all Tory budgets, regardless of which transient individual delivers them. Jeremy Hunt is the answer to nothing.
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