Perhaps it is easier to manufacture outrage, though, than think complex issues through.
David Laws, writing in the FT:
The coalition still has the potential to be one of the great reforming governments of the postwar era. The changes we are making in education, welfare and pensions are radical and right. The country will judge us over our full term and not on the basis of a turbulent few weeks of “here today, gone tomorrow” headlines. But after five years, we must show we have made the right decisions on the economy and got Britain back on track. That must be the coalition’s overriding obsession in the year ahead.
This whole piece takes a very positive, even bullish stance, on the Coalition government. And Law’s - the Liberal Democrat MP - is right at least about one thing: that it’ll be the whole five years that gets judged come the general election in 2015, not these awful few weeks the Coalition have been having.
It does seem crazy to me that so quickly into a five year plan, it is being decided that its not working. It’s as if people are surprised that making cuts really doesn’t feel good. Of course they don’t! This was always going to be an incredibly tough few years for the UK - regardless of who was in government.
I don’t think the government have been getting all the decisions right, but I do still broadly agree with their overarching plan of reducing public spending and getting control of the deficit. And we do need our public services to be run more efficiently if they’re to be sustainable. That said, the priority has to shift towards getting our economy growing again. The best way to overcome the mess we’re in economically is to have both decreasing costs and increasing growth. If it’s only the former, we’ll never get out of this mess.
The Coalition will be judged come 2015 on how it does on the growth front between now and then. The reduced public spending is known and certain. The growth isn’t. Get the economy growing again and Labour’s lead in the polls will evaporate very quickly whilst ever Ed Miliband is at the helm.
2015 is a long three years away. Whatever we may think of the Coalition, it’s far too early to write it off or think that the plan has failed. For better or worse, they’re going to stick with Plan A (whilst placing renewed emphasis on growth) and hope things turn around before the general election. Anyone who loves the UK will hope for that the plan does work. But, of course, it’s in the Labour Party’s interests that it doesn’t.
Following politics can be really frustrating. Sure, it’s fascinating and intriging - but it can also be deeply frustrating.
Take yesterday’s Budget. George Osborne made his announcements and then, immediately afterwards, listening to Ed Miliband’s response, I was left wondering if he’d even listened to any of the announcements Osborne had just made. Miliband had clearly decided on his narrative in advance and chose to ignore the inconsistencies that didn’t fit within this narrative.
And no sooner had Osborne’s speech and Miliband’s response finished, it all spilt out of the House of Commons into the media and social networks. The interpretations were so polaraised. Osborne had - in an announcement that probably took up 1/500th of his speech - said that the highest rate of tax would drop from 50p to 45p. Going onto the BBC News site later, this part of the Budget was their headline. Apparently, this was the main and most important part of the Budget. It wasn’t.
Labour chose to interpret the Budget as being all about making things easier for the rich and harder for the poor. Whether this was factually acurate was, of course, irrelevant. It was about political point scoring. The fact that hundreds of thousands of people were brought out of paying tax at all was totally ignored. This is something that you’d of thought Labour would support. And, in reality, they do. But can they say this? No. It wouldn’t fit with their narrative on this whole Budget being about tax cuts for the rich. Politics!
There are two announcements that Osborne made yesterday that have stuck and made all the headlines: First, the drop from 50p to 45p for the highest rate earners (those who earn over £150,000). And, second, the so called ‘Granny tax’. These have been used to shape a narrative that says that the coalition (and in particular the Tories) are grabbing from the poor to support the rich.
And you know what, this is great for newspaper sales and website pageviews! But I hope the more discerning citizens will see beyond the media hype and political point scoring and realise that these changes are not nearly as dramatic as they are being made out to be.
How much will dropping the 50p top rate cost us? Next to nothing. There’s even a chance it might save money. Which raises the question of whether people’s wanting the 50p rate has anything at all about national interest, or if it’s simply a hating of anyone rich. Whilst some highest rate tax payers may end up better off, overall the wealthiest people in our nation (via various other means) are going to end up (as a whole, if not individually) contributing a greater amount to our economy than before.
And then there’s the Granny tax. Taking from pensioners seems to be a total no go for politicians. Why? Because pensioners vote. Keeping pensioners happy is often key to political success. But should pensioners be free from suffering from any of the cuts most of the rest of us have been facing?
I know it’s not popular, but I don’t believe in universal benefits. What’s the point in rich pensioners having free bus passes and help to pay their heating bills? It’s nothing but a waste of money. And this new Granny tax isn’t on all pensioners; it’s on the wealthier pensioners. (Note: pensioner doesn’t automatically equal poor.) As the IFS has now said, ‘this looks like a relatively modest tax increase on a group hitherto well sheltered’. And, in real terms, this will mean a loss of equivalent to just 0.25 per cent of income.
So, in essense, the two main stories from yesterday’s Budget are really non-stories. They are both pretty neutral changes that in the grand scheme of things aren’t that big a deal. Unless you’re only interested in a particular political narritive that doesn’t depend on factual accuracy!
This article isn’t written to suggest that I support everything in the Budget. It is simply to make the point that the people have jumped on two issues that are not actually that big a deal.