Wednesday, 24 March 2010
A very political budget
Alastair Darling has grown greatly in Chancellor, and he was in full command of his brief today. By being able to highlight better than expected tax receipts and lower borrowing, he was on strong ground arguing that the Government's approach to the economy has been showing signs of success. His announcement on a stamp duty holiday for first time buyers up to £250,000 cleverly linked its funding to a higher duty on homes worth over £1 million. He wisely focused a range of new tax reliefs on entrepreneurs, innovation and business investment, with a new national investment bank to support green transport and energy. And he made much of contrasting Labour and Tory approaches to public service guarantees, employment training and high speed rail. His plans to clamp down on tax avoidance in Grenada, Dominica and Belize were a masterstroke, showing a mischievous sense of humour. Given the perceived limits on his room for manouevre, this was a sensible package that put Labour in a stronger position than before. Gordon Brown should make clear that in the still limited chance that he should win the election, he will retain the experienced reassurance of Alastair Darling at the Treasury. Being able to draw a sharp contrast with the woeful George Osborne would be a vote-winner.