Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Coffee House Evening Blend..

Today in brief

  • George Osborne unveiled a budget aimed at tackling the cost of living and Britain's competitiveness…
  • …against a backdrop of dismal economic figures.
  • Tory MPs welcomed a good budget for the Chancellor…
  • …while Ed Balls and Ed Miliband continued to complain about the 50p rate cut.
  • David Cameron compared the situation in Syria to the international community's reluctance to intervene in Bosnia.

The Analysis

One aspiration nation

First, the politics. Osborne managed to pull off a good Budget today, with gestures on the cost of living and Britain's long-term competitiveness. Key cost of living measures included cancelling September's fuel duty increase, cancelling the beer duty escalator and cutting beer duty by 1p, the Help to Buy and revamped Right to Buy schemes and bringing forward the rise to £10,000 in the personal tax allowance by a year. And on competitiveness, the Chancellor thrilled his backbenchers with the Employment Allowance, which takes the first £2,000 off the employer National Insurance Bill of every company.
He also took great care to namecheck MPs who had been campaigning on specific issues which he was adopting. This had a clever intention: to show MPs that Osborne listens to backbenchers when they come to him with ideas. It counters the narrative of the inner circle. And Osborne had a good overall narrative, too. He packaged the Budget up in the 'aspiration nation' catchphrase: a bit cheesy, and possibly annoying to those who will hear it endlessly in Westminster, but it's something voters have a good chance of remembering. You can read his full statement here.

What next? James thinks the main debate from now on will be about how the government has actually managed to get the deficit down by £100 million. And as we said this morning, it's all about the ability of the Number 10 machine to sell the good bits over the next few days.

Failed aspirations

But the Chancellor's own aspirations for the recovery are not quite being realised. Osborne told the Commons that he wanted to 'be straight with the country', and the list of figures he reeled off from the OBR made the first day of spring seem very grey indeed. The OBR's forecast is halved to 0.6 % growth for this year, then 1.8 per cent in 2014, 2.3 per cent in 2015, 2.7 per cent in 2016 and 2.8 per cent in 2017. He said 'the likelihood of meeting the supplementary debt target has deteriorated'. If you want more gloom, Fraser has produced six scary graphs on the worst recovery in history.
And while the politics were good, will the Budget have any impact on growth? Not according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, which says the Budget will have 'no impact on level of GDP at the end of the forecast horizon'.

Ed Balls takes the 50p

How many more budgets and autumn statements will we have to endure where Ed Balls and Ed Miliband ask the government frontbench whether its members have benefitted personally from the 50p tax cut? Ed Miliband did it again today, and Ed Balls later claimed that he and the Labour leader had prepared a whole section of his speech to deal with a U-turn from the government. Nice theatre, but the Labour party will find the 50p attacks grow more difficult as the 2015 election looms and they have to consider whether they really would restore a rate that Gordon Brown only had in place for a month.
The Labour frontbench managed to procure many copies of the Evening Standard's front page, tweeted accidentally ahead of the Budget embargo, which they waved during the Budget statement. But in the end Ed Miliband decided not to compare this to Hugh Dalton's 1947 slip-up, and merely demanded an investigation. The newspaper has apologised and launched an investigation: a dignified way of dealing with a mistake that all editors fear could one day befall them.

Tomorrow's agenda

  • MPs debate the Budget.
  • Justin Welby enthroned as the new Archbishop of Canterbury.
  • Michael Heseltine turns 80.
  • 09.30: Public finance figures for February published. Last February the deficit was £11.9 billion.
  • 09.30: IEA and TPA post-Budget media briefing.
  • 13.00: Institute for Fiscal Studies post-Budget briefing.

Some vital statistics

  • Latest YouGov: 10pt Labour lead (Lab 41%, Con 31%, LD 11%, Ukip 11%). Implied Labour majority of 108.
  • Next government chances, as implied by bookies: Lab majority 41%, Con majority 20%, Lab-LD coalition 17%, Con-LD coalition 12%, other 10%.
  • Next Tory leader chances, as implied by bookies: Boris Johnson 19%, Theresa May 16%, Michael Gove 11%, Philip Hammond 9%, George Osborne 9%, William Hague 8%, David Davis 6%, Grant Shapps 5%.
  • Government borrowing cost (10-year bond yield): 1.88% (+0.05pts)

In tomorrow's Spectator

1. Why we aren’t signing: Fraser Nelson on what’s wrong with the Royal Charter on press regulation. Politicians aren’t the people who should be deciding on what is, or isn’t, acceptable journalism; they’re the ones who have an axe to grind. In 1952, when the idea of press regulation was first propsed, The Spectator wrote that ‘Everyone who really understands what freedom of the press means and cares about it must resist such a proposal to the uttermost.’ The same applies now. 
2. Osborne’s low-key budget: In this week’s politics column, James Forsyth writes that George Osborne’s budget today won’t be one of the biggest events of the political week – and that’s exactly what Osborne was after. Osborne’s overall message? ‘We need to keep on keeping on,' says Forsyth. 
3. The return of the Devil: Piers Paul Read says the new Pope, Francis, is giving voice to what was an unfashionable perception; the existence of the Devil. We might have thought Old Nick had been relegated to literature and folklore, but Pope Francis says: ‘'He who does not pray to the Lord prays to the Devil.' Things might be about to change.
4. William Dalrymple in Afghanistan: Far from being ‘unstable’ he finds President Karzai to be ‘charismatic, erudite and intelligent’, and just 24 hours later is hauled off to a Kabul police station on suspicion of being a potential suicide bomber. 
PLUS: Rod Liddle on how Cyprus robbed its people, an interview with an Eighties legend, Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp, Julie Bindel on London slang, an Irish travel special, and much, much more. 


Politicians will want to distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ journalists, to help friends and hurt enemies. Fraser Nelson on why The Spectator said ‘No’. 
The decline in Britain in the number of those who believe in God was preceded by the disappearance of the Devil. Piers Paul Read on the Devil’s comeback.
It was manslaughter – Nasa recklessly launched that shuttle because it needed the money. James Delingpole on BBC2’s The Challenger
I was so desperate for the torture to end that I was prepared to sacrifice everyone I loved to put myself beyond the reach of his sales pitch. Melissa Kite on Vodafone’s cold callers.