Budget 2013: Chancellor George Osborne has got the little things right - and the big things wrong

A member of the Lib Dems' Federal Policy Committee laments the Chancellor's devotion to narrow political strategy ahead of the interests of the country

Related Topics

This is a very different budget to its predecessors this Parliament; after the chaos of 2012 has come a tightly-focused package bearing the indelible mark of George Osborne – not as Chancellor, but strategist.

The politics of it are clearly from the hardnosed 2015 Conservative election planning unit of George Osborne. No opportunity has been missed to make populist announcements on relatively low revenue-raising excise duties.

On this, the overdue and welcome abandonment of the beer duty escalator is notable, for the victory of CAMRA and other campaigners in pointing out that the measure was actually starting to lose the Treasury revenue as well as damaging pubs.  Clearly the headlines are supposed to be about matters like these rather than growth and the deficit.

Treat with caution

On the face of it a great success, the announcement of the completion of the signature Liberal Democrat policy of increasing the income tax threshold should be treated with caution, for two reasons.

The first is that Osborne wants to treat this as his triumph too, as recent Tory election literature suggests.

The second is that the wider message was obscured by yesterday's announcement of a childcare package that benefits upper earners who don't need the support, and does too little for lower earners who do. While a Liberal Democrat signature and constructive influence is unmistakeable, nobody in the party should for a moment be complacent about it being enough.

The most compelling reason is the worsening bigger economic picture. Whereas what is needed is to get banks lending and housing built, the remedy instead is an investment-free sticking plaster of old-fashioned short-termism.

Part of this is due to the continuing chasm in Coalition housing policy, with Tories blaming the planning system (conveniently forgetting about the hundreds of thousands of homes with consent) and more sensible Lib Dems advocating investment to get jobs short-term and save long-term.

The mess senior Lib Dems are in on this subject is epitomised by the only major pre-budget infrastructure announcement - to the horror of environmentalists and most Lib Dems, a new nuclear power station, announced by - of all people - a Lib Dem Minister.  The seemingly knee-jerk reaction of the Coalition to side against environmental interests remains a major concern.

Unhappy grassroots

Indeed, having rejected the detailed plans of the Liberal Democrats on housing, the Coalition’s plans come endorsed not by Barratt but Elastoplast. The promise of loans to house buyers does not tackle the failure of the banks to promote advantageous rates; the investment in shared equity likewise will not supply enough oil to the wheels of the house builders.

Increasingly, this is the view of Liberal Democrats at the grassroots too. A survey of Lib Dem activists published today found that over two-thirds of them want a turning away to Plan A, mostly towards the investment approach favoured by the Social Liberal Forum and Vince Cable – Plan C.

Superficially, then, possibly with Eastleigh spooking the Tories, there is news for Lib Dems to be glad about. However, the overriding impression is that of a Budget that gets a lot of little things right, but the big things wrong.

Whereas the balance-sheet approach is finally acknowledged to have flopped by mistakenly slashing capital investment, demand remains suppressed and growth restricted, as Vince Cable's New Statesman essay set out. The political positioning of George Osborne is no substitute.

Gareth Epps is co-Chair of the Social Liberal Forum and a member of the Liberal Democrats’ Federal Policy Committee

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
More From
Gareth Epps
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Thousands of Russian troops marched on Red Square in the annual Victory Day parade in a proud display of the nation's military might amid escalating tensions over Ukraine  

Once again, the West fails to understand Russia

Mary Dejevsky
Jamie Oliver joins children as they celebrate Food Revolution Day 2014 by cooking bread, making smoothies and creating salads at St Paul's Whitechapel CE Primary School in London  

Teaching children to cook at school is a recipe for self-respect

Grace Dent
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before