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

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
RIP Voicemail?  

Voicemail has got me out of some tight corners, so let's not abandon it

Simon Kelner
A sculpture illustrating the WW1 Christmas Truce football match in Liverpool  

It's been 100 years since the Christmas Truce, but football is still changing the world

Jim Murphy and Dan Jarvis
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there