Sean O'Grady: No gold medal for Alistair Darling

Share
Related Topics

Anyone following the news this week would have formed the distinct impression that the Government was about to change the rules on stamp duty to stimulate a failing property market. How they were going to do that was slightly up in the air.

Ministers were looking at various options: suspending it; postponing payment (in effect an unsecured, interest-free loan by the state to housebuyers); turning it into a marginal tax, so the higher rate is only payable on that portion of the property's value above the relevant threshold, rather than on the whole price. All sensible stuff perhaps, and, differing in detail only, another splendid example of the Government's ability to purloin a Tory policy when it cannot think of one of its own. And then mess it up.

They messed it up because they failed to think it through, especially the impact of floating such an idea in the current market conditions. Usually floating ideas in the press unattributably is a harmless enough practice. A government decides it would like to slaughter the first-born, say, but is worried about reaction on the backbenches and the lobby groups. So they leak the idea to a paper, and reaction is gauged. You end up with slaughter of the first-born in pilot scheme areas.

But the stamp duty idea was different. If you offer up the possibility of a saving in the future cost of buying a home, you create a fresh incentive for buyers to bide their time, the opposite of your aim. A fresh incentive, that is, on top of the much larger one of simply watching prices fall off a cliff.

The Chancellor, Alistair Darling, went on the radio on Tuesday to perform his usual trick of not answering any questions. He has perfected this, skilfully deploying all the tiresomely transparent little lines politicians habitually use to dodge the issues, stuff like "not ruling anything in/out", "let's see what the review says", "that's speculation", "we're committed to doing everything we can", "I think what your listeners are really interested in is this" and "it would be foolish to commit ourselves when the future is uncertain".

He's a bit like one of the athletes in Beijing, except here the event is the endurance test of how long he can say sod all about anything before Paxman or Humphrys runs out of time. Darling's performance was close to a personal best. But he won't be getting a gold medal. He succeeded in not answering the questions about stamp duty rather too well, and thus allowed the idea to run that the Government were indeed planning something. It was stupid, and costly.

Peter Bolton King, chief executive of the National Association of Estate Agents, said: "This uncertainty is a very, very dangerous thing – just to make a comment without backing it up in what is a very delicate market. Although we have called for a stamp duty holiday, I wish he hadn't said it."

Yesterday it was the turn of a Treasury spokesman to clarify: "Recent news stories suggesting the government has put forward a proposal on stamp duty are simply wrong. These stories are based on speculation." I wonder where that speculation originated. Surely not HM Treasury? Then again, the statement continues, "As has been said on many previous occasions, the government has made clear that there are a number of options we will need to consider to help businesses and people get through what is undoubtedly a difficult time." Er, so where does that leave us?

s.ogrady@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Junior Analyst - Graduate - 6 Month fixed term contract

£17000 - £20000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

SAS Business Analyst - Credit Risk - Retail Banking

£450 - £500 per day: Orgtel: SAS Business Analyst, London, Banking, Credit Ris...

Project Manager - Pensions

£32000 - £38000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors and Omissions: In thrall to a word that we don’t quite comprehend

Guy Keleny
 

The No campaign has a classic advertising problem: they need to turn a negative into a positive

John Hegarty
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone