Big-spender Darling opens political fault lines
Was the Budget a costly non-event, asks Adrian Pearson.
IT was perhaps the triumph of hope over experience. As Alistair Darling brought the country back to the harsh dividing lines of yesteryear the region was left looking to a future of crippling debt and budget cuts.
With little choice open to him, Mr Darling decided to go for broke, some would say quite literally, and tell people they could either back him or sit and watch as the economy falters.
Over the last week Mr Darling prepared us all for the worst, creating perhaps the expectation that he would simply stand up at 12.30pm, shrug his shoulders and promise things will only get better.
Instead he gave us Old Labour at its proudest. Tax the rich, borrow now and be damned if anything will stop us investing in schools and hospitals.
Given the staggering numbers involved, with public borrowing to increase to £175bn this year, he may well have been hoping the values no longer make any sense. After all, how many voters can see the difference between this year’s debt and last year’s?
Some were watching, though. The Conservatives will now be telling all of us that “Britain simply cannot afford another five years of Labour".
Which is pretty much exactly where the Chancellor wants them. Before his statement the next General Election would likely have been fought on Labour’s handling of the economy, the various bungles made by ministers and the threat of more Gordon Brown disasters if we don’t vote Labour out.
Now Labour MPs previously at risk of disappearing under a sea of pessimism can bring to the nation their favourite battle – Tory cuts versus Labour spending. Whatever the cost.
The message already being drilled into MPs is simple “You can grow your way out of recession. You cannot cut your way out of it”.
Mr Darling made clear the new difference he believes exists between Labour and the Conservatives when he told the nation: “We could have decided to do nothing, but we chose to act.”
The Conservatives will be hoping that sooner or later we all realise just how staggeringly high the nation’s debt now is.
Our economy is shrinking, we have no money and the Chancellor has just left us with a generation of debt, they say. Oh but the environment, you can almost hear the Chancellor exclaim.
The new green age, the importance of which has been upgraded as the economy worsened, to the point were now the very mention of a wind turbine and a coal study are treated by MPs as akin to a new nuclear age.
His big green hope will only materialise when the recession eventually says goodbye, leaving little to be optimistic about in 2009.
Even car scrappage, that much called-for £2,000 incentive, is unlikely to have the dreamt-of impact.
It could cost up to £14bn and yet the majority of that will go on cars bought from foreign manufacturers.
And with housing projects across the country having to share a limited pool of cash, there is a sense we may have witnessed the greatest non-event in history and received in exchange the biggest debt ever seen in the UK.
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