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Pre-Budget Report

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 3:29 pm on 24th November 2008.

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Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer 3:29 pm, 24th November 2008

Listening to the Chancellor's speech, no one can doubt now that the Prime Minister's claim to have abolished boom and bust was one of the greatest deceits ever told to the British people.

The Chancellor has just announced the largest amount of borrowing ever undertaken by a British Government in the entire history of this country. What he did not admit is that he is going to double the national debt, to £1 trillion, and that a national debt that has accumulated over centuries is going to double in just five years. That is the bill for Labour's decade of irresponsibility, initiated by the Prime Minister. To pay for it, the Chancellor has put in place a huge unexploded tax bombshell, timed to go off underneath the future economic recovery.

The Chancellor talked about a 0.5 per cent. adjustment, but Labour Members did not understand what that means. It means that he is giving £20 billion in giveaways and taking back £40 billion in higher taxes, including the major rise in national insurance—a tax on the jobs and incomes of middle Britain. That is confirmation of the time-old truth that in the end all Labour Chancellors run out of money and all Labour Governments bring this country to the verge of bankruptcy.

Stability has gone out of the window. Prudence is dead. Labour has done it again. Massive borrowing; rising unemployment; tax giveaways for Christmas, paid for by tax rises for life; giving with one hand and taking with another—everything that we have come to expect from this Prime Minister. He says that the recession will end halfway through 2009, but the tax rises will not come in until 2011. I wonder why he chose those dates. This Budget is all about the political cycle and not the economic cycle.

Those borrowing figures are on a scale never before heard in the House of Commons. The £78 billion this year is almost double what the Chancellor forecast just eight months ago. The £118 billion next year is a record percentage of national income. He has added £512 billion to the national debt over the next six years—and by the way, that is based on growth forecasts that are vastly more optimistic than those of most independent forecasters. That means that the Chancellor is borrowing more on the nation's credit card than all previous Governments put together. Now the Chancellor is taking out another credit card, for, like the gambler who cannot give up, he still thinks that he can borrow his way out of debt.

These are the excuses that the Chancellor has deployed. First, he claims that the recession has nothing to do with the people who have been running the country's economic policy for the past 10 years. "It's all America's fault," he says. What total nonsense. Was it America that gave Britain the biggest housing boom in the world? No. Was it America that gave Britain the highest levels of personal debt of any country in history? No. Was it America that gave Britain the largest budget deficit in the developed world? No. It was this Labour Government. No American politician said that they had rewritten the laws of economics. No American Treasury Secretary boasted that he had done away with the trade cycle and abolished boom and bust. It was the Prime Minister who said those ludicrous things, over and over again. He mistook a boom for stability and he never prepared Britain for the bust.

The second excuse that the Chancellor made today was that he faces this recession from what he called a position of relative strength. Relative to whom? If he spoke to anyone other than the Prime Minister, he might find that his is not a view widely shared in the world. If he is right that Britain is better prepared, could he answer this simple question: why is the recession predicted to be worse here than anywhere else?

The Chancellor reeled off a list of countries. Let me give him this list from the IMF. It says that Britain's recession will be more severe than those in America, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Spain and every other major economy in the world. What about this list from the Commission? Britain's structural deficit is almost double that of France, three times that of Italy and more than 10 times larger than the deficit in Germany. The truth is that the Prime Minister built our economic growth on the pillars of finance, housing and Government spending, without once stopping to think what would happen if the pillars collapsed. He ran a huge budget deficit on the unstable premise that he could milk the City every year, and never considered what would happen to public finances when the money ran dry. He did not fix the roof when the sun was shining.

That leads us to the third excuse used by the Chancellor today. He believes that the temporary tax measures that he has announced will deliver some huge demand boost to an economy that the Government have led into recession. Let us be clear that half of those measures are to compensate people for the Government's own 10p tax con and to delay the tax rises that he announced from the Dispatch Box just eight months ago. Labour MPs cheered the measures when they were introduced and now they cheer them when they are scrapped. I doubt whether the rest of the country will be so pathetically grateful that the Chancellor is going to wait a year or two before clobbering their family cars, empty properties and small businesses.

As for the temporary VAT reduction, we will see whether it has the great economic effect that the Prime Minister expects. The Chancellor did not tell us that the German and French Governments have today ruled out a similar move because they do not think it will be effective. He did not tell us that already today many retailers are questioning the cost of implementing it and the impact that it will have on the high street, given that many shops are already selling things at 20 or 30 per cent. off. Borrowing money for a temporary cut when prices are already falling, and telling people that their taxes will go up to pay for it, is not much of a stimulus.

What will make a difference are the massive new taxes on ordinary incomes and jobs that are just around the corner. The Chancellor got a cheer from the Labour Benches when he announced the higher top rate of income tax—no surprise there—but it will raise less than 5 per cent. of the black hole that he has to fill. It is designed to distract attention from the billions of pounds of extra taxes that are on their way for millions of hard-working families. Now we know at least one of those tax rises: national insurance, an income tax in all but name. The Chancellor did not give his figures, so I will: a £4 billion tax increase on families and jobs; more in tax for a qualified nurse, more for a police officer; £100 million on the annual NHS wage bill; £2 billion from British business. That is not just a bombshell; it is a precision-guided missile at the heart of a recovery.

The final excuse that we heard from the Chancellor today was that, despite all the economic evidence of the past 40 years, Britain can borrow and spend our way out of this recession. Does he not see any parallels in what happened to Japan, which followed the path that he advocates and found itself saddled with debt and stagnation for a decade? The international bodies that he quotes in his defence have clearly stated that fiscal stimulus is an option only for countries with strong public finances. Perhaps this generation of Labour politicians needs to be reminded of what Jim Callaghan told them at a Labour party conference— [Interruption.] The Lord Chancellor was probably there.

"We used to think that you could spend your way out of a recession and increase employment by cutting taxes and boosting government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists".

If the candour of the last unelected Labour Prime Minister will not do, we can listen to what the current unelected Labour Prime Minister used to say:

"We have learned from past cannot spend your way out of a recession".

It turns out that he has forgotten past mistakes, and now he is condemned to repeat them.

The Chancellor could have taken a different path today—the path of radical monetary action and responsible fiscal policy. That is the right route out of a recession. Instead of boasting about the bank rescue abroad— [Interruption.]

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Huw Morgan-Jones
Posted on 25 Nov 2008 1:01 pm (Report this annotation)

The criteria for this new savings scheme that the Chancellor has announced will be interesting.
Qualification for opening such an account will have to be very tight, enabling only the poorest to be participants.

I wonder how the 'cut' will be arranged?

Failure to restrict the accounts to this group would make a 50% interest rate most attractive!