A Strong and Cable Budget?

by Alistair Carmichael MP

Budgets used to be spring events but that was before the man they call “Spreadsheet Phil” took the reins at the Treasury.

Spring, however, is a time when people look forward with optimism as they leave the winter months behind them. It is a time we associate with growth and renewal.

If you think about it, you can see why the Chancellor felt it would be more appropriate to give us his budgets in November.

The months since the drastically ill-judged snap election in June have been difficult ones for the economy and the government.

It tells you a lot about the current state of the Conservative Party that a man whom we used to see as being one of the biggest fiscal hawks in the cabinet is now seen as one of the few voices of sanity at the cabinet table.

Increasingly the cabinet looks more like a bunch of unruly toddlers demanding to know why they can’t all play in the sandpit and threatening to spill their juice on the floor if anyone tries to make them leave.

For those of us of a certain age the Prime Minister’s performances look less like Margaret Thatcher and more like Joyce Grenfell as she struggles to assert the little authority that she has left.

The budget could be one of the last chances this government has to change the way it is seen by the country and governments elsewhere in the EU. They could come forward with a bold package to stimulate growth and productivity.

The problem is that even the most brilliant budget today could all be trashed in eighteen months time if, as seems increasingly likely, we crash out of the EU without a deal.

From the outside it looks as if the government is determined to drive our economy off a cliff and the only real debate with the Conservatives is about the speed at which we should do it.

The period in the run up to budgets are always full of speculation, commentary and advice. For good reasons the actual contents of the budget are mostly kept secret.

One thing that we do know for certain, however, is that the Chancellor will have to find half a billion pounds in this budget, and another half billion again next year to keep Theresa’s Northern Irish friends happy, and protect the Government’s razor thin majority.

In his last budget in March the Chancellor lost a major, and politically embarrassing, battle over National Insurance Class 4 contributions, so it is unlikely that he will spoil for another fight with his backbenchers on that.

The Tories in their manifesto also committed to raising the personal allowance to £12,500.

This is a good policy.

We know that because it was one they stole from us, having previously said it would be impossible and unaffordable. If they stick to their guns and deliver on it the 22nd November, we shall support them.

Whether this is the lone survivor of a manifesto long since abandoned, we will find out on 22 November.

I fear that rather than pull the government and the country out of the difficulties into which they are sinking the budget will merely serve to demonstrate the complete cluelessness of this government.

It is often said that you should not judge the success of a budget on the day that it is delivered but should reserve judgement until the weekend after it. In normal times that would be true but we live now in truly extraordinary times.

If later this month, Phillip Hammond manages to stand at the despatch box and deliver his budget without falling over then it will, by the standards of the day, be seen as a success.

How different would it all be if, instead of Spreadsheet Phil, it was our own Vince Cable standing at that despatch box?

Instead of someone being pulled in all directions by the likes of Boris Johnston, Liam Fox and David Davis we Could have a grown up who knows what he is talking about, doing what is necessary and right for the country.

Someone in charge who is strong and Cable. If it sounds good to you then let’s get out there and tell the British people about it.

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