Budget 2016 – Labour’s Way In?

Today was George Osborne’s eight budget as Chancellor, and could yet be his last, if Brexit have their way. If, and I shudder at the thought, Britain does leave the EU this summer, surely Cameron and Osborne will both resign from their posts. Before the budget today Osborne called it the budget “for the next generation”, carrying on the Tories narrative of a long term economic plan. However, this budget was anything but long term, and was definitely not one for the next generation.

Firstly, no matter how the Tories or any right wing media want to try and spin the issue, Osborne has simply cut the benefits of the disabled and sick to fund a tax cut at the top. His budget was an assault on the most vulnerable, and benefits the richest, and the highest earners. Now yes we know this has always been the Tories ideology in many ways; they have always been known as the party for the wealthy and privileged. But this move was constructed by Osborne, for Osborne. It’s quite common knowledge that Osborne and Boris are effectively battling for the top spot; and this budget was arguably his final audition. It is an attempt to win over the Tory donors, and the Tory membership, who can effectively help him to get into Number 10.

Now let’s look deeper into Osborne’s record as Chancellor, and his budget today. Firstly, 500,000 people with disabilities are losing over £1bn in PIP to aid cutting corporation tax. Osborne’s debt target was missed again, and there is £38.5bn more being borrowed than planned. Growth is being revised down each year for the next 5 years, business investment revised down, and government investment revised down. He has cuts services up and down the country, cut jobs, sold assets, further privatised services, cut flood defences, cut adult skills budget, and the deficit (which he always points towards Labour) has risen to its highest level ever. 18,000 police officers have lost their jobs, all health budgets cut, NHS at critical level, 700,000 people lost their jobs, the country has lost its triple A rating and now has a debt-to-GDP ratio of 82.8% as opposed to 65.9% in May 2010. And in the same budget he claims is “for the next generation”, the Institute for Fiscal Studies have predicted that child poverty will rise from 15 per cent to 18 per cent.

Osborne has missed every target he has ever set himself. To quote Corbyn “he’s failed on the Budget deficit, failed on debt, failed on investment, failed on productivity, failed on trade deficit, failed on the welfare cap, failed to tackle inequality in this country”. And what beggars belief is that big business will be paying a small percentage of tax on their profits, then their employees will on their income! It’s a very good thing the Chancellor is blaming the last government – he was the Chancellor in the last government.

Now how does Labour use this? Lately Labour has been useless at exploiting the governments messes, but this is too big of an opportunity to miss. As Jade Azim highlights Labour must resist making the easy mistake of just passing moral judgement, but should also attack him on his terrible record, and his fantasy statements. By 2020 Labour will be free to attack a clear, decade-long Tory record that has increased borrowing, and overall debt. Labour need to bring Osborne’s ideological preference for austerity and a diminished state into plain sight, but this won’t be as easy as it sounds.

The problem is that currently the electorate are all about balancing the budget, and they see the Tories as the best party for this (which they’re not). Now the electorate know that Labour stand up for people, but they don’t think it’s for them. This was highlighted in a new 2015 election report, where findings showed people thought we were too soft on benefit claimants, and were the wrong choice for the economy. These views have been inflated by shows such as ‘Benefits Street’ which paints benefit claimants as terrible people, and Labour needs to tackle this. Austerity continues to be viewed by much of the electorate as an unpleasant necessity, which of course it isn’t. And truth is budget appeals to  people who vote and Labour’s response to the budget doesn’t. But there are many areas that Labour, and the leadership can exploit.

Few voters disagree that rent is too high or wages are too low, and that it drives the welfare bill up, so this can be exploited, like Blair did before 97. Labour needs to talk about work, about rent, about job security, and they need to exploit the fact that since November there has been 20 point swings  in the electorates opinion of both the Tories and Osborne’s handling of the economy. Labour needs to spend the next 5 years hammering into the electorate the Tories poor record, but I don’t think the current leadership can do that. After many years of telling the British public the country needs to ‘save’ money to fix the economy, Labour should start making a case as to how these ‘savings’ can be best spent to make our country fit for the 21st century.

Now Jeremy Corbyn’s response to today’s Budget was fine on paper. But the problem is that it was Jeremy Corbyn who gave it, and he stuttered through parts. And the MPs behind him didn’t help. Most Labour MPs became very interested indeed in their phones or the Budget documents that were being passed around the Chamber. Now obviously this is bad decorum from the MPs, but it shows a clear lack of belief in the leader. Change is needed at the top, whether it’s Jarvis, Nandy, Eagle etc, something needs to be done.

But a final point for Osborne after today. The Tories have been in power for 6 years now; at some point, the economic calamity they rule over has to stop being someone else’s fault.

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