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The Chancellor told the House last week that his policies had been vindicated. His basic case is that austerity is working so well that we need it for two Parliaments rather than one, as was planned. Of course, it is welcome that we have economic growth after so many lean years, but the inescapable fact is that the targets in the growth and spending plans set out at the beginning of this Parliament have been missed by huge margins. The cumulative effect is that cuts will last years longer than planned, and an extra £190 billion is being borrowed, compared with the figure in the plans set out after the election. If Labour had borrowed £190 billion more than was planned, I am not sure how Government Members would describe it, but I doubt whether they would be reaching for the term “success”. The return of growth cannot hide the fact that the outcome of the strategy pursued in the past four years is that one of the Government’s fiscal targets has been missed, and the other—the five-year rolling target—continues to be pushed into the future.
The increases in investment allowances are welcome, but let us be in no doubt: this is a U-turn from the Conservative manifesto and from the 2010 post-election Budget. At that time, when the Chancellor was talking about the “march of the makers”, he cut support for investment in manufacturing by £3 billion a year, and called it getting rid of complex allowances and reliefs. Rhetoric and policy were pulling in entirely different directions. I therefore welcome the U-turn, and on this point at least, rhetoric and policy are now pulling in the same direction, although needless barriers were placed in the way of investment by the policy previously pursued.