Ed Miliband lambasted George Osborne as "the wrong Chancellor" yesterday, accusing him of putting the recovery at risk and squeezing living standards by cutting public spending "too far and too fast".
The Labour leader denounced Mr Osborne for pursuing the wrong economic course, pointing to faltering growth, rising inflation and growing unemployment as evidence that the tough medicine was not working.
He argued that the centrepiece measures of the Budget – the rise in income tax thresholds and the 1p cut in fuel duty – were dwarfed by other tax increases in the pipeline. Producing an instant response to a Budget statement – even a leaked one – is one of the toughest jobs in Parliament and Mr Miliband frequently struggled to make himself heard in rowdy Commons scenes.
Lindsay Hoyle, the Deputy Speaker, was forced to appeal for calm as MPs hurled insults across the chamber.
Mr Miliband deployed a series of jokes crafted by his new press team to deride the Coalition's strategy and accuse it of ideological inflexibility.
Ridiculing a "Budget for growth that downgrades the growth forecasts", the Labour leader recalled that the Chancellor blamed the wintry weather for the contraction of the economy at the end of 2010. Mr Miliband said: "He blamed the snow – even he must appreciate the irony. Because while the Prime Minister was grounded from his Christmas trip to Thailand, the Chancellor was on the piste in Klosters.
"I guess it was the right type of snow for a skiing holiday – just the wrong kind of snow for our economy."
He added: "It's not the wrong type of snow that's to blame.
"It's the wrong type of Chancellor, in the wrong type of government, with the wrong priorities for Britain."
Mr Miliband protested at the scale of the austerity measures and attacked the increase in value added tax to 20 per cent in January for fuelling inflation. He said the Government had performed several U-turns on policy issues recently, but showed no sign of altering direction on the "issue that matters most".
And he mockingly likened Mr Osborne to Lord Lamont, who endured a torrid spell as Chancellor in John Major's government, as he accused the Government of returning to failed policies of the early 1990s. "The same hubris and arrogance, the same broken promises, the same view that unemployment is a price worth paying – he is Norman Lamont with an iPod. And there's no doubt what's on his playlist – 'Je Ne Regrette Rien'." He also turned on the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, as "an accomplice to this Tory plan". Mr Miliband said: "When it comes to the economy, the man who coined the phrase 'alarm clock Britain' has the snooze button well and truly on."
He added that more than one million families – some with incomes as low as £26,000 – will lose all their tax credits next year and the VAT rise would cost the average household £450 a year.
"Now the Chancellor's got the nerve to expect them to be grateful when he gives them a fraction of their own money back," he said.
"And what about the decision on petrol? He's done the same thing again. He's cut duty by 1p, but he's whacked up VAT on fuel by 3p. Families won't be fooled – it's Del Boy economics."
The Tory MP Andrew Tyrie, the Treasury Select Committee Chairman, urged the Chancellor not to lose his nerve in reducing the deficit. "We are living beyond our means as a country. One pound in every four we spend is being borrowed," he said. "The pressure to flinch will now mount.
"We simply must not do so. It would cost the country a fortune in higher debt service charges as markets lost confidence in economic policy."
The veteran Labour MP, Sir Stuart Bell, accused Mr Osborne of harking back to the 1980s.
"The public sector doesn't count for very much, the welfare state doesn't count for very much. What counts is balancing the budget," he said.
But the Tory right-winger John Redwood said: "I would like to praise the Chancellor of the Exchequer for seeing that his single central task day in, day out, month in, month out, year in, year out, our five-year burden, is to get that deficit down before it kills our public finances and our economy."
Labour MP Dame Anne Begg, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on offshore oil and gas, warned that the £2bn tax on North Sea oil companies would have a "devastating" impact in her Aberdeen South constituency.
A slumbering Secretary of State?
Did Kenneth Clarke doze off during George Osborne's budget speech? The allegation was first aired by the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, as evidence of just how exciting Mr Osborne's speech wasn't.
"The Justice Secretary fell asleep during the Chancellor's speech, his growth strategy was so compelling," the Leader of the Opposition told MPs.
Mr Clarke, 70 last July, was wide awake when Mr Miliband levelled this accusation and could be seen shaking with laughter. Afterwards, a spokesman insisted: "Of course he didn't fall asleep."
But others were adamant that he did. The shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander, who was at Mr Miliband's side, said: "We watched as it crept up on him."
Another Labour MP, Chris Bryant, claimed: "As we were leaving the chamber I asked 'Did you fall asleep?' He said he might have dozed off a bit."
The evidence was good enough to convince the bookies, Ladbrokes, who had taken bets at 16-1 on the possibility of the Justice Secretary resting his eyes. A spokesman claimed that it had cost the bookies "a four-figure sum".
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