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It has not taken long for the gloss to come off this Budget. We have learned just how clueless those in charge really are. The reckless national insurance blunder told us what we need to know about the Chancellor; they saw him coming as he fell for a classic Treasury bottom-drawer policy. In the old days, it could take at least until the weekend for a Budget to unravel, but this Chancellor seems to have set a new record by producing one that disintegrated before the day was out.
What is worrying about this dreadful performance is that it is beginning to look like a pattern. As each day passes, we learn that this Government make it up as they go along, with Ministers woefully unprepared and in some cases just not up to it. We have had the City Minister relieved of key duties and an Education Secretary who hides from the press, goes around closing schools and pretending that huge cuts in funding are fair, and thinks she can sell grammar schools by promising an easier 11-plus. The health service is on its knees, so the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is planning to take an extra £4.3 million in business rates from Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham, and has not even had the time to discuss the implications with Health Ministers. One measure they should have announced is that they are going to treat NHS hospitals like their private counterparts and exempt them from business rates. At the head of this shambles, we have a Prime Minister without a mandate who thinks that as long as she repeats it often enough, people will believe her: no sweetheart deals, the Home Office getting more efficient, Brexit means Brexit. The more she repeats it, the more we see right through her. Even the Chancellor’s allies are describing her key aides as economically illiterate.
I acknowledge that the performance on the Labour Benches is not always good enough, and that may be partly responsible for the extraordinary complacency we are now witnessing from Conservative Members, but that is no reason for them to think that they can get away with providing the British people with second-rate government. It is quite incredible that in this non-event Budget the Chancellor had nothing to say about preparations for Brexit, especially as we learn that the Government are seriously contemplating crashing out of the EU without a satisfactory deal. That is not respecting the will of the British people—it is abusing the referendum result to embark on a reckless course that threatens people’s jobs and businesses large and small, and guarantees the most enormous hike in food prices.
When will this nonsense stop? When we will stop having to listen to the Foreign Secretary? I never thought I would be grateful to Michael Gove for anything, but I am beginning to think he did us all one enormous favour. They cannot agree on anything. The Foreign Secretary thinks it will all be all right on the night, the International Trade Secretary warns that leaving without a deal will be a problem, and the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU says he is thinking about a back-up plan. It is like a live performance by the Three Stooges. Just how much longer are these people going to try pull the wool over our eyes?
This Budget could have been the opportunity to clarify some of the confusion over Government policy. They could have tried to sort out the mess on the apprenticeship levy before it is too late. They could have done something about energy prices, and the fiasco that if someone puts in a smart meter and then changes supplier, it has to be turned off. If they persist with this, that is £11 billion of Government money down the drain. There are plenty of things that they could have done in this Budget, but of course what is wrong with this Budget is that this Government do not know where they are from one day to the next.