I'd been planning a lie-in this morning at the Randolph in Oxford, but Rhodri from Post Cynta rang me late yesterday afternoon inviting me to share with Gary Owen my thoughts on the budget. The BBC laid on a taxi to collect me at 7.30 and convey me to the studios of BBC Oxford. Incidentally, I had to find my own way back, and it cost me £6.50 - if you happen to read this Rhodri! But to what I wanted to see in the budget. Firstly I was hoping for honesty about the financial hole that the UK has been dropped in. And secondly, I wanted the Chancellor to outline 'a credible plan' outlining how the UK economy was to brought back under some sort of control.
Now it would not do justice to my response to the budget, simply to say that it failed to satisfy my hopes. I believe that today's budget was so awful that it demonstrated the unfitness of both Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown to hold the offices that they hold. The borrowing figures were worse than any one could have expected - £175 billion in 2009/10. More money is being borrowed in the next two years than has been borrowed in every other budget in history added together. A total of £700 billion is to be borrowed over the next five years. No, its not a typo - it really is £700 billion. And incredible as these figures are, they are based on a rapid and huge recovery in the British economy, beginning in this financial year, and growing by 1.25 next year. It is then expected that the British economy will grow by a whopping 3.5% every year thereafter - almost double trend growth. Darling and Brown (plus the lackeys who parrot whatever instruction that the Prime Minister issues to them) may be the only humans on this planet who believe this. Today, the International Monetary Fund made it clear that its opinion is as different from the Labour Government's as a carrot is from a discus.
So it's not a credible budget. To be honest I hadn't expected it to be - neither credible nor honest. And there was no credible plan. To be blunt, I thought the budget was a disgrace. I'm not going to comment much on the new 50% tax rate, except that its introduction has nothing to do with raising revenue, and everything to do with squalid posturing for political purposes. Its purpose is to divert attention from the horror of today's budget.
The elephant in the room that's being ignored is cutting the size of the state. Alistair Darling did make a start today by reducing the rate of increase they had been previously been promising. Its clear that there is going to be significant reductions in public spending by the Treasury - and this will flow down to all tiers of Government. First indications are that the National Assembly for Wales will have to operate on a lot less money, and will pass a lot of this on to local government. Just because there's a reluctance to talk about precisely where cuts will be made, it doesn't mean that they are not going to have to be made. I do think that the public are ready to accept cuts in public spending. But its going to be a tough time for all politicians over the next few years.