Leading Article: A budget to shake our faith in the Government's ambitions

Share
Related Topics
In a damp month, a soggy squib. What is the point of an exercise that calls itself consultative, then announces accomplished policy facts; that promises great change, only to admit that the detail has not been worked out and can't be revealed till the day after tomorrow?

Here was a stunning chance to educate the nation in fiscal business and the long game plan, and it was missed. Gordon Brown did not even fly a kite - for example, give some sign, however tattered, that he is thinking about mortgage tax relief, that he has come anywhere near the crux decisions needed if pensions are to be reformed in a lasting and enduring way.

Let's repeat that word, reform; it's got nothing to do with Wilsonian gestures on winter fuel relief for the old, welcome though they unquestionably are. We do not need Gordon Brown playing Santa Claus. We need him to put this government's astonishing power and prestige behind a scheme that will ensure that 20, 30, 40 years down the road, there is no longer a case for this kind of bail-out.

Here, yet again, was the Blair government having it every which way, and no particular way at all. Grand spinning, and much harping on the radical theme, when in the event all the Chancellor did was top and tail announcements he made in July. Telling us we are to have a National Minimum Wage was, to put it bluntly, a waste of space: we read that in the party manifesto and have been standing by ever since. Waiting. The country, and this paper, continue to have great faith in the Government's ambitions. But there is considerable unease among voters about its capacity to realise those ambitions.

This begins to look like a government that won't plump. What else is power for? To say that integrating taxes and benefits is difficult, is elementary. A shelf full of studies and analyses tell how it could take place and at what cost. Mr Brown - his aides and civil servants - ought to have read them long ago. Now we should move forward.

But in which direction? As a parliamentary performance, yesterday's statement was first rate; concise and assured. We are getting used to that. As a message about New Labour ideology, it shambled. Take Mr Brown's serial use of the word "responsibility". What does it mean? In fact, what on earth was that long peroration about pay restraint really for? This is a capitalist society where, surely, government can ask for restraint only if it can convince us that it is a moral enterprise, dedicated to increasing social justice. Where, then, were the Government's proposals for making taxation fairer, for stripping from home owners their unfair subsidy, for taxing inheritance?

It didn't help that officialdom chose yesterday to announce the gift of a superior gong to the original fat cat, Sir Denis Rooke of British Gas. Sir Denis may be an accomplished gas engineer; he has also gained mightily from doing nothing other than still being at the helm when privatisation took place. All the talk of moderation, of responsibility from the boardroom downwards - and here is another example of the proverbial difference between the law for the rich and that for the poor.

Labour may argue that its policies - including co-operation with business - have a core purpose: to maximise employment. Let's be generous, and agree that the Government is sincere in wanting to create conditions in which job opportunities expand. Even more, let's agree that it is a fundamental and decent objective, more attainable than the tiresome Tory defeatists can yet bring themselves to admit. The Government is convinced that work is the key to social, as well as economic, emancipation, and who can gainsay that view?

Fair enough. But here lies real complexity. The easy thing to do (decent enough, but easy) is to shell out some money to allow elderly people to be warmer this winter. Done that. We approve. Who wouldn't? Labour backbenchers approve. Are you surprised? Is this what it's all about? By no means. The question - unasked yesterday, let alone answered - is how Labour intends to make the tax and benefit system fairer and more effective. Instead we had a mildly fatuous exhortation to employers to hold back on pay - their own, and their employees'. Bluntly, Gordon, it's up to them to decide what they need to pay people in order to retain them, motivate them and deliver growth; you don't really have much to do with it. In fact, when did you ever have to negotiate several hundred individual salaries? No: your job is the public finances, and we are not that much wiser this morning on the subject than we were yesterday.

This government's fate seems to be to spin an exciting line about what it's about to do, and then fall just a bit short of the billing. It's not clever. And people are less and less convinced by it.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A teenage girl uses her smartphone in bed.  

Remove smartphones from the hands of under-18s and maybe they will grow up to be less dumb

Janet Street-Porter
Rohingya migrants in a boat adrift in the Andaman Sea last week  

Burma will regret shutting its eyes to the fate of the Rohingya boat people

Peter Popham
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor