Gideon’s Way!
June 23, 2010

George Osborne, the Chancellor formerly known as Gideon, emerged from yesterday’s ‘unavoidable’ Emergency Budget relatively unscathed.

We’ve been so well primed for this ‘tough but fair’ recovery plan that hardly an eyebrow was raised. Timing is everything of course and, realistically, in the glow of yesterday’s summer sunshine, more minds were probably focused on Andy Murray, safely negotiating his way through the first round at Wimbledon, and England’s forthcoming  do or die World Cup match.

The media are generally agreed that this budget is the most severe in living memory, but largely accepting that the bitter pill of savage cuts, in public spending and benefits, and an increase in VAT to 20%, is the consequence of the previous government’s financial mismanagement and something we will have to swallow.

Whilst the Mail described the Chancellor’s performance as ‘Masterful’ and the Telegraph dubbed him ‘Osborne the Enforcer’, the Guardian was rather more prosaic, alerting us to ‘Pain now, more pain later’. Only the good old Mirror voiced its opposition, ‘History will show George Osborne’s Budget was a disaster.’

Perhaps ‘prudence’ would not normally be associated with ex members of  Oxford University’s elite ‘Bullingdon Club’, membership by invitation only and renowned for its wealth and destructive binges.  But will Cameron and Osborne in their new guise as  ‘the dynamic duo’ save the day?

At this stage the jury is out, but those in opposition are saying say the cuts are too much too soon, will restrict growth and result in a dramatic increase in unemployment.  As always the Tories seem to think this is a price worth paying.   

One thing is certain, however, we now have a coalition government in name only, and this is well and truly a Tory budget. 

Nick Clegg, resplendent in his golden tie, and Danny Alexander, becoming increasingly prominent as senior minister to the Treasury, were strategically placed either side of Osborne on the front bench, like two nodding dogs throughout his speech. They are slowly but surely morphing into Tories and it won’t be long before Cleggy becomes, ‘the man with the royal blue tie’.  

This was a master stroke by Cameron and Osborne, for it was the front bench Lib Dems, not the Tories, who bore the brunt of Harriet Harman’s response to the budget as she demanded, “How could they support everything they fought against? How could they let everyone down who voted for them?”

When Harman is on song, as she was yesterday, one wonders why she isn’t standing for the Labour leadership. Her display was confident and passionate, something we haven’t seen from the Labour bench for a while, and she went for the kill in no uncertain terms: “The Lib Dem leaders have sacrificed everything they ever stood for to ride in ministerial cars and to ride on the coat-tails of the Tory Government”.

A lot of Lib Dem backbenchers and voters would say, ‘Amen to that!’ and it will be interesting to see how many MPs break ranks and side with Labour in voting against the budget.

The Emergency Budget will go down in political history, not only in terms of its severity, but as the beginning of the end of this coalition government and more significantly as the point at which the Liberal Democrat Party seized to exist as an entity in its own right.

Just a Form of Income Tax?
June 12, 2010

Five weeks in and the first telling cracks have appeared in the fragile coalition government. The fantasy that the Lib Dems would stick to their principles, drive a hard bargain and keep the Conservatives ‘honest’ is fading fast.  

One of the key electoral pledges, which attracted many young voters to the Lib Dems, was a commitment to abolish university fees by 2016. Now we hear from David Willett’s (there’s a name from the past) ahead of the findings by the Browne Commission, announcing that university tuition fees could rise to as much as £7000 a year and students should just view the increase as “an obligation to pay higher income tax”.

So surprise, surprise! If you’re bright and from a low-income family forget higher education, you’re being priced out of the market and your place can be readily taken by a less able kid from a family that has the means to pay, and has probably already been put through the private education system anyway! Whatever happened to the meritocratic society?    

Cleggy, speaking in his home constituency at Sheffield Hallam University, says he’s not going to be made to feel guilty by the difficult compromises that have to be made in a coalition government! Well, he should be ashamed!

It’s okay because the Lib Dems are being ‘allowed’ to abstain in any Commons vote to increase fees. No! If he and his party are to have any shred of credibility, once the ‘love-in’ is over and we are on our way back to the polls, Clegg should be speaking out loud and clear againt the proposed aspects of Conservative policy his party has campaigned against, and encouraging his MPs to vote against it! Amidst this gross act of betrayal I’m pleased to hear a voice of sanity from, stalwart former Party leader, Menzies Campbell who has already come out and said he will keep his word and vote against any increase.

Cleggy (The Man With The Golden Tie!) should enjoy his fleeting moment in the sun because in the cold reality of day when the coalition founders, which it surely will, the voters he has so readily let down will jump ship and the Lib Dems will find themselves returning for another long stretch in the political wilderness.