Budget Resolutions - Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:42 pm on 14th March 2017.

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Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 6:42 pm, 14th March 2017

I thank colleagues who have spoken in this debate today. They have torn this Budget apart. I am talking about my hon. Friends the Members for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), for Burnley (Julie Cooper), for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), for Redcar (Anna Turley), for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) and for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss), my new hon. Friend, Gareth Snell and many other people.

Last week, the Chancellor painted a rosy picture of the nation’s finances. He claimed that the Conservative party’s stewardship had been nothing short of miraculous. He was relaxed and attempted jokes throughout his speech. The Prime Minister’s shoulders shook with amusement, and many Government Members chuckled away. Some of the more experienced Government Members were watching cautiously, as the nosedive gained velocity. The Chancellor had got it wrong—big time. Within hours, he was attacked by many of his own Back Benchers. He was left hung out to dry by the Prime Minister, and, unsurprisingly, he has faced universal criticism over his plans to raise national insurance to 11% for millions of self-employed people. As Sir Michael Caine in the iconic film “The Italian Job” said, “You were only supposed to blow the doors off.” [Interruption.] It would have been unparliamentary to throw in that word. Well, the debris from the explosion is still descending. To put it purely and simply, the manifesto pledge was broken.

Since last Wednesday, Nos. 10 and 11 have been in a briefing war, with each trying to blame the other for the fine mess. Ostensibly, No.10 suggested that the Chancellor sneaked the national insurance rise into the Budget. Apparently, other shocked Cabinet colleagues have indicated that he failed to mention that it would break their manifesto pledge. As my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood said, it is worrying that Cabinet members do not know their own manifesto commitments. Perhaps they do not care. Then again, the Government have an insouciant attitude towards their manifesto commitment—[Hon. Members: “Give way!”]. I will come back to that in a minute. The insouciant attitude goes on. First the Government committed to getting rid of the deficit by 2015—a broken promise. Secondly, they said that it would be pushed back to 2019-20—another broken promise. Thirdly, they vowed that the debt would start to come down after 2015—another broken promise.

The Government will have virtually doubled the debt and doubled the time they have taken to get it down, and this is what they call success and fiscal credibility. They seem to think that they can simply press the reset button when it comes to meeting their own fiscal rules, and that no one will notice. It is the flipside of John Maynard Keynes’ approach—namely, “When I change my mind, the facts change with it.”