TAX AND SPEND
I think the fevered talk of plots to dislodge the Prime Minister is exaggerated. Whoever is PM on Brexit Day better stand by for massive criticism either for paying the Europeans too much or keeping us too close to the EU. Better to leave Mrs May to take the flack is surely the wise course for aspiring leaders. Reports that some Tory MPs want to go into opposition to refresh the party are ridiculous.
All that said the government is in a fragile state and is relying on Philip Hammond to deliver a good budget next week. I’ve got a lot of time for Phil The Till. When you look around the Cabinet table and see charlatans like Johnson and Gove, there is something reassuring about the grey man with his spreadsheets. He knows Brexit is a dangerous threat to the economy. He knows we are spending billions servicing our debts. Yet he is bated for exuding gloom when he should be apeing Johnson’s unfounded cheerfulness.
On Wednesday the Chancellor ought to loosen the purse strings to help with housing, the NHS, and elderly care. He needs to address our woeful productivity and skills record. But he should be bold enough to put up some taxes to pay for it and go back on a manifesto promise to raise the 40p income tax threshold to £50,000. The elderly should have to pay some National Insurance to begin the task of tackling intergenerational unfairness.
Unlike many commentators I don’t think a General Election is at all likely so now is the time in the political cycle to take a risk with incurring the wrath of those opposed to any tax rises.
But Phil Hammond faces strong opposition in his own party. Former Minister Nick Boles wants the Chancellor to scrap his deficit reduction target. He believes it is fine for the annual deficit to remain at 2.6% indefinitely. This in the face of an Institute for Fiscal Studies warning the deficit could be on course to be £20bn higher than expected by 2021/22.
The former Prime Minister has been in the North this week to boost sales of his memoirs. I had a lot of time for the granite integrity of this Scottish son of the manse. His one great achievement in No 10 was in October 2008 when he showed global leadership in the middle of the economic crisis.
His great flaw was his undermining of Tony Blair in his desire to be Prime Minister. Why did he want the job so badly? When he got it, he didn’t know what to do with it. Was he a continuity man for New Labour or something else?
He claims his differences with Blair were over policy and he had nothing to do with the personal attacks. The fact is Brown could have reigned in his spin doctors Damian McBride and Charlie Whelan who were constantly briefing against the Prime Minister.
Blair should have sacked Brown after the 2001 General Election, but it’s not just weak Prime Ministers who find it hard to dismiss troublesome Cabinet colleagues.
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