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

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia  

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Oliver Poole
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices