Heads up: Top comment and controversy
Budget 2014: Top comment from around the web
19 March 2014 04:51 PM
Savers and pensioners were targeted for generous support by George Osborne in the 2014 budget.
Otherwise, the Chancellor stuck firmly to a familiar message. Leave it up to Labour, and all the hard work to balance Britain’s books will fly out the window.
Here are three pieces from around the web that cut out some of the ‘wall of noise’ and drill down into what Osborne and the Coalition are really up to:
Writing in the Financial Times, Tim Harford saw little of merit in the 55-minute budget speech. The Undercover Economist and presenter of Radio 4’s More or Less paints Osborne’s decision to allow pensioners access to all their pension money at once as irresponsible: he won’t be around, says Harford, to pick up the pieces in 10-years time, when Peter and Prunella Blogs have splurged everything and fall back on more costly state benefits. Plus, the welfare cap is illogical, while much of what Osborne offered ‘trivial’. In sum:
"let us applaud George Osborne for playing his own game well – a game in which economic logic is an irritation, the national interest is a distraction, and party politics is everything.”
The Labour Trap
What level would Osborne set the welfare cap at? According to the Telegraph’s Mary Riddell, Eds Balls and Miliband believed it would either be a level they could live with, or one that socked it to the poor so hard they would be able to make gains out of that recurrent theme: Tory cold-heartedness to the less well-off.
Cleverly, Riddell argues, the £119 bn welfare ceiling (minus pensions) for 2015/16 rising to £127bn by 2017/18 plays square into the middle of that binary, putting pressure on the Labour PR machine. The Opposition will be forced to vote on the cap next week – so not long to come up with a coherent response.
As for the cuts to beer and bingo duty, they're “patronising to the poor”, says Riddell – and others are calling it a shameless tickle for Sun readers.
A beautiful, but potentially dangerous, pensions play
Editor of the Spectator Fraser Nelson admires the intelligence of Osborne’s key announcement on pensions: it won’t cost the Government anything, and if, as hoped, the result is a surge in pensioner spending, then the Chancellor will recoup much-needed tax revenues for the Treasury – possibly £1.2 bn more by 2018-19.
There are drawbacks. Offering a 4 per cent savings rate is “of course, mad. It’s outright bribery”. Moreover, drawing back the curtain on pensions may have been dramatic, but a move of this scale also opens the possibility that pensions will become a “political football” – leading to instability.
At Independent Voices we have Sean O’Grady praising the ‘Liberal and Conservative’ instincts behind the pension reform, Natalie Bennett of the Green Party giving an alternative budget, and Deputy Business Editor of the Independent James Moore on Osborne’s luck - and his deviousness.