And so it came to pass that Philip Hammond, the true successor to John Major in the greyness league, stepped up to the Dispatch Box to deliver the Budget, the first by a minority Government since Denis Healey delivered the 1978 version for Labour. It soon became clear that Spreadsheet Phil was not quite in the same league as Healey. And it was about rather more than the bushiness of the eyebrows.
What will change? There are much-trumpeted changes to Stamp Duty, but the headline cut is only aimed at first time buyers. Tobacco duty rises; that on beer and wine does not. There are adjustments to the tax-free personal allowance and the National Minimum Wage. The higher-rate tax threshold rises. Money is being set aside for Brexit. But the GDP forecast for the next five years is estimated to be well below 2% growth per annum.
And already the Budget is, in the tradition established by the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the Seventeenth Baronet, unravelling at some speed. As Sky News’ Faisal Islam has pointed out, “Uh oh... OBR assumes that the stamp duty cut will simply up house prices 1:1 ‘Thus the main gainers from the policy are people who already own property’”. Look for the right-wing press to have the spin machine fired up on that one.
Islam’s colleague Ed Conway noted “This is the first time in modern history that the official UK GDP growth forecasts are below 2% every single year over the forecast horizon”. Joel Hills of ITV added “Chancellor boasts economy growing but performance poor relative to other advanced economies. The gap between us and them likely to widen”.
Stephanie Flanders, now at Bloomberg, riffed on the same theme: “Quite an achievement for small open economy like UK to be slashing growth forecasts when global economy enjoying most synchronised recovery since 2007 and our biggest trading partner is seeing best growth in a decade”. Not much Vision And Boundless Hope And Optimism there.
Then Labour MP Stella Creasy - not known as a screaming leftie - observed “Just to be clear then, government planning to spend more on brexit than the NHS - £3bn to £2.8bn. Look forward to seeing the bus with that on driving around”. It was worse than she thought: as the detail from the Budget shows, the £2.8bn for the NHS is not new money, but will be raised by selling off NHS land. And it gets worse.
Although wages have increased since 2010, rather a lot of other items have increased at a far faster rate: gas bills, water bills, private sector rents, rail and bus fares, and food bills, just to mention a few of those. Food poverty, homelessness, food bank usage, child poverty, zero hours jobs, and indeed debt have all risen dramatically.
And for nurses, doctors, teachers, Police officers, and firefighters, there has been effectively no pay rise for the past seven years; in fact, they have suffered an effective pay cut over that time. But if they so much as utter a peep of protest, the right-wing press is on hand to shout them down, but only in the name of free speech, you understand.
This Budget will be cheered by the rich, secure and otherwise comfortable. Tomorrow’s papers will be generally favourably disposed towards it. But for millions at the bottom of the pile, it will continue to be jam some years beyond tomorrow. No change there, then.