It is not a great triumph for unemployment to fall as an economy returns to growth. The point that I was making is that employment in this country is lower as a result of the Chief Secretary's Budget, that growth is lower as a result of his Budget, and that the Budget hits the economy so hard that he must raise another £9 billion of taxes, although the Chancellor refused to admit it at the Dispatch Box.
I now wish to turn to a question to which I hope we will devote quite some time today: the wider question of why this Finance Bill is so unfair. We now have the judgment of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which tells us that the Budget is so regressive that its only redeeming features are Labour policies. Age Concern tells us-clearly, starkly, urgently-that it will put older people's lives at risk. The Child Poverty Action Group tells us that it will drive poorer parents into the arms of loan sharks. The House of Commons Library tells us that nearly three quarters of the £8 billion tax and benefits bill will be paid by our country's women-and that is before we get to VAT.
Clause 3 is the clause that deals with VAT, and I think it fair to say that it is the clause without a mandate. I have come to learn that, after nearly 30 years in the House, the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark did not get where he is today without knowing what makes his party tick. I believe that when he said, a week before the Budget,
"I hope we don't have a VAT increase because it is the most regressive form of tax", he spoke for the majority of his party's voters and his party's members. Before too long, those words will come back to haunt the Chief Secretary and the rest of the occupants of the Treasury Bench.
"let's remember, it is a regressive tax".
He was right: it is a regressive tax, and we now know that he is a regressive politician for supporting it.
I think that it is fair to say-I feel that I can say this among friends-that I know a thing or two about writing something and regretting it later, but the Liberal Democrats did not just write a silly note. They unveiled a whacking great poster on a lorry saying, "Tory VAT bombshell". Little did we know that they would be the ones not only to prime it, but to set it off.
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