23 Mar 2011

Budget 2011: an instant verdict

So the economic plan is broadly where it was … still the biggest contraction since post-war demobilisation, still – according to the OBR’s best estimates – capable of being pulled off … but now challenged by higher inflation, inflation-fed debt costs up (over the parliament) by around £45b, and growth estimates for this year squeezed.

As George Osborne says, he hasn’t come back with a begging bowl for more, but who knows what the future might bring. Where he’s made adjustments it’s to reduce the taxes paid not to reduce the cuts planned.

How stands the Coalition after all this? The Lib Dems can wave the personal allowances around and will. But there will, I predict, be dark mutterings that an old-fashioned sort of Tory populism is creeping in if not through the window and ransacking the house. Lib Dem MPs often have rural constituencies and know the pain of rural communities’ petrol bills. But the harsh reality of choosing petrol prices over Surestart centres?

The temporary introduction of a fuel stabiliser marks a family triumph for George Osborne. I’m told the originator of this policy wheeze was none other than his father-in-law, Lord (David) Howell, currently a Foreign Office minister, formerly an Energy Secretary under Margaret Thatcher.

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