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good morning Some more thoughts on the Chancellor’s announcement, plus what Keir Starr thinks in his pre-Budget PMQs.
Inside Politics is edited by Georgina Quach. Follow Stephen on Twitter @stephenkb And please send gossip, ideas and feedback to email@example.com
Cash for a splash?
In terms of the things Jeremy Hunt can directly control, he made a number of smart moves, as I wrote in yesterday’s post-Budget briefing. Unfortunately, things he can’t do Control looks very dark. Here are the Office of Budget Responsibility’s forecasts for household income:
Real incomes are forecast to fall to almost where they were a decade ago — and don’t forget the OBR’s overall growth forecast is relatively optimistic compared to estimates by independent economists and the Bank of England.
It’s a grim backdrop for everyone: British families are top of mind but of course it’s also bad for the Conservatives’ political prospects. As Martin Wolf writes in his column:
He has drawn up a set of measures which should bring about some structural reforms. But the basic picture is one of a life crisis, a dysfunctional public sector, an unhappy public sector workforce and a less than vibrant economy. Will this budget change all that? I doubt it. Will he win the next election? I doubt it too.
One source of Conservative reassurance is this: because Hunt’s fiscal rule is over a five-year period, he will have extra prime room for election gifts in the form of tax cuts and/or spending increases next year. Here’s Chris Giles’ analysis.
It’s possible, but one big reason I think the chancellor’s remaining headroom is unlikely to be intact at the next election: Hunt has chosen not to do this in the budget. He did not increase defense spending to the level that Defense Secretary Ben Wallace and many Conservative MPs wanted, he did not make more money available to settle industrial disputes across the UK and he did not increase the amount of money going to public services.
He faces pressure from within the Conservative Party to increase defense spending, electoral pressure to resolve strikes across the country and Both Electoral pressure and internal party pressure to increase the amount of money going to public services.
Yes, most Tory MPs will tell you they want the government to focus on tax cuts. But then many of them will, in the next breath, say they wish the government would do more to support stay-at-home parents and not just see professional childcare as the solution for everyone. Or call for more policing, or smaller boats, or even more effort to tame the horses of some other expensive hobby.
If you consider the possibility that events – be it some sort of economic storm, some sort of crisis in a British university, caused by a long-term real-terms cut in the value of tuition fees, something — force the government to spend more money again, I don’t think Hunt’s headroom is particularly likely to make it to the next election.
This is not to say that the Conservatives have no way of winning the next election: I think that if there is a victory it will be through the claim that “things are bad but improving, don’t risk Labour’s inexperience”, rather than a palliative budget.
Psst! Aunty, he is talking to you
One of the few cast-iron certainties of British politics is that no Opposition Leader will ever, ever, make meaningful headlines at Prime Minister’s Questions before the Budget.
As a result, opposition leaders often use those PMQs to send messages to stakeholders. Maybe they can address some kind of controversy that is important to the internal power broker but no one really cares about.
Although they have nothing to gain by making PMQs the focus of a busy week, they may feel obliged to mention the ongoing international situation for fear of appearing narrow-minded otherwise. Whatever: The only interesting thing about the pre-budget PMQs is that it is a window in which the Leader of the Opposition tries to talk to stakeholders. So what can we infer from Keir Starmer’s PMQs yesterday, when he chose to discuss the Gary Lineker affair?
This will have a message designed to speak to a specific group of stakeholders. In this case, the senior management of BBC Dr. This is smart politics: a reliable way to sway the BBC’s coverage in your direction is to sow seeds of doubt internally about the corporation’s impartiality. After a week in which the BBC itself has done plenty to plant that seed, it makes sense for Starmer to go on about it.
Starmer’s choice to highlight allegations of “the national broadcaster dancing to the government’s tune” in a week when everyone else is talking about the only thing the Budget also means is that he avoids a fight with a large number of people in the Labor Party who want any opposes opposition. A kind of complicated connection with the BBC. Keep an eye out for anything Starmer can do to reinforce this message: I think it’s a good bet he’ll be doing more of this sort of thing.
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