FOR ALL the rhetoric, this is a socialist Budget that aims to shift incentives and benefits to the advantage of the poor and recipients of state welfare. This is a perfectly honourable agenda, and it is being carried out in a prudent and responsible fashion. But Labour cannot have it both ways. It cannot redistribute money from taxpayers towards state dependants and at the same time pretend to be the defenders of tax-paying Middle Britain.
THIS WAS an unashamedly political Budget with the Chancellor offering carrots today with further incentives to come, while not dwelling on the disappointments in his bag. But in the final analysis this should not detract from the fact that it was also a Budget we desperately needed. He almost performed a political miracle and pleased all of the people but perhaps the Holyrood Budget has in effect done just that. No one can predict accurately the vagaries of the ballot box, but Scots drinkers, who saw no increase in their tipple, might not be alone in raising a glass to their canny cousin at No 11 Downing Street come election day.
WHEN COMPANIES cannot complain and Tories struggle to oppose, Labour backbenchers ought to be suspicious. Yet Mr Brown has also managed to deliver on many old Labour objectives. This Budget represents the essence of new Labour, delivering many of its traditional aims in a sophisticated and popular way which puts its opponents in all sorts of trouble.
THIS WAS a budget for of all the themes for all the people - men and women, young and old, big and small, six of one and half a dozen of the other. We stand in awe of Mr Brown's vision. We question only whether he has any idea what he's doing. He appears to forget that fiscal complexity feeds on itself; that it creates anomalies that call forth new rules and complications; that it diverts effort and resources into tax avoidance rather than wealth creation. Above all, he forgets a golden rule of public finance that he would do well to put alongside his rule on public borrowing: every tax preference is an increase in taxes on everything else. That is why budgets of all the themes for all the people are pointless.
TO CALL this a "Budget for the family" is a wretched misuse of language, when marriage - that great safeguard of children's interests - no longer seems to matter. Of course, people don't get married merely for the sake of a relatively minor tax concession. But the allowance is just about the only recognition by the state that marriage is something to be cherished and remains a potent symbol of official approval. In throwing that symbol away, New Labour is in effect saying that marriage is no different from any other relationship, however feckless or transient. That is a tragic misjudgement which one day may return to haunt a Chancellor who in so many other respects delivered a remarkable, if over-busy, Budget. But many will feel in his forecast for economic growth, Mr Brown has been overly optimistic.
THERE CAN now be no doubt this is a government that supports the family. Every family will be better off and there has been a marked switch to poorer homes with children. Gordon Brown is a Chancellor with a sense of history. He presented the last budget of the 20th century, but it was really a Budget for Britain - and Scotland - in the new millennium.
THERE IS no point in expanding the economy any more at this time because the large increases in public spending announced last year will only come into effect next month at a time when the recent series of interest rates cuts will also start to stimulate the economy. Maybe it's a good time for the Chancellor to take a honeymoon or something, and leave the next step to Eddie George and his colleagues at the Bank of England. Sometimes a governor's got to do what a governor's got to do.
WHAT WOULD be reassuring would be some indication that Mr Brown has a sense of the wider architecture of the tax system and the need for simplicity if tax measures to improve productivity are to work. Stability is not just a requirement of macro-economic management. If the sticks and carrots of the tax and benefit system are constantly changing, all planning, whether for business investment, an income in retirement, or even the family budget, becomes unduly hazardous.Reuse content