WELL. Close your eyes for a bit and the world is even more bonkers when you open them up again.
It’s budget time, on both sides of the Irish Sea, only the right-wing English nationalists don’t call their latest shake of the magic money tree (£45 billion) a ‘budget’. That would involve a legally-defined process in which the Office of Budgetary Responsibility looks over your figures and predicts how they will shape economic growth, public services and employment. That’s far too rational for the Britannia Unchained crew.
The new occupants of Nos. 10 and 11 Downing Street have no need for the OBR. They have no need for the most experienced civil servant at the Treasury (permanent secretary Tom Scholar), summarily dismissed as one of the first decisions of the new regime. They have no need for a sugar tax, an obesity strategy or a ban on junk food adverts. They even have no need for the Tory manifesto of 2019 which pledged to halt fracking until it could be proven safe. They have no mandate for what they are doing.
While it’s early days yet, all the signs are that the latest British government has no need for evidence either. It looks like ‘evidence-based policy’ is so last century. They even seem to be leaving behind ‘policy-based evidence’ (which involves selecting the evidence that supports the policy you want to follow). Move on everyone! Welcome to the era of ‘evidence-free policy’, which means, primarily, following your beliefs. Key advisors and Truss’s chief of staff are drawn from the Tufton Street gang of right wing lobbyists, including the Tax Payers’ Alliance, the Institute of Economic Affairs, and the Adam Smith Institute (plus the Global Warming Policy Foundation and Migration Watch), all funded by who knows who, a.k.a. ‘dark money’.
Are the British the worst idlers in the world? Let's fact-check these five assertions from Britannia Unchained (which was co-authored by our new PM and chancellor)... https://t.co/82TYSnQGzs pic.twitter.com/dWqXaTMUyJ— Sarah O'Connor (@sarahoconnor_) September 20, 2022
What are those beliefs? The book Britannia Unchained (published ten years ago with Truss and Kwarteng as two of the five authors) is based on a few simple beliefs – or should we say prejudices. Number one, the state is too ‘bloated’. Two: the ‘lens of redistribution’ is wrong, leading to a misguided focus on equality between men and women, North and South (remember ‘levelling up’!), workers’ pay versus shareholder dividends and so on. Three: business is far too regulated. Four: British workers are stupid, lazy, uneducated and lacking in aspiration. To quote: “The British are among the worst idlers in the world. We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor. […T]he British are more interested in football and pop music.”
So if you keep hearing talk of raising ‘aspiration’ and forgetting about ‘redistribution’, you know where this script is coming from. Bundle all this together and you get last week’s tax cuts. You too can have a massive tax cut if you are on more than £150,000 a year! So get aspiring. Aspire to be a banker and no longer will your bonus be capped! Even bankers were taken by surprise by this measure: they had not lobbied for it and nor were they consulted about it. ‘Lazy workers’ came into the so-called Growth Plan as there are to be further restrictions on strike action, and part-time workers, mainly women, on Universal Credit will have to try harder (work more hours) or else lose the benefit. Punishment for the most vulnerable; rewards for the most secure.
In a nutshell, the Growth Plan starts with flooding the economy with tax cuts, targeted most heavily on the rich. As many commentators have pointed out, income tax cuts for most people will be clawed back by not raising the thresholds at which tax starts to be paid at the 20 per cent and 40 per cent rates. Only the top five per cent will be better off. London and the South East will be better off and everywhere else worse off. Across the UK another two million will be pushed below the poverty line, including 700,000 children.
Together with the £150 billion to be spent on keeping energy bills down, there is a lot to pay for but only the vaguest plan as to how it will be paid for. This is what has spooked the money markets and caused the dramatic fall in the value of sterling against the US dollar.
Spare a thought for the free-market think tanks of Tufton Street, left brokenhearted this morning by the discovery that the actual market thinks they are insane.— Nick Cohen (@NickCohen4) September 26, 2022
During the leadership campaign, Rushi Sunak predicted that ‘Trussonomics’ would cause a run on sterling. Others predicted the same: some of the hedge-fund managers who supported Truss ‘gambled’ on the fall in sterling, as reported by the Sunday Times. Disaster capitalists cleaned up.
Compare and contrast with the South’s budget to be delivered on Tuesday (after this was written). Whatever political choices are made, the whole process is more transparent, involves an alternative budget presented by Sinn Féin (the official opposition in the Dáil), and is comprehensive in coverage. All sectors lobby and chip in with ideas and some details are leaked well before the budget is presented to the Dáil. For instance, at the time of writing we know that the pupil teacher ratio is to come down. Special education is to get more support. The cost of childcare will be cut. Over a billion euros will go into raising child benefit and other benefits. In addition there will be temporary measures to support energy costs for businesses and for households.
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Social Protection @ClaireKerrane has today launched the party’s social protection #Budget2023 proposals to support workers and families.— Sinn Féin (@sinnfeinireland) September 26, 2022
MORE: https://t.co/R7ZsiBkUoG pic.twitter.com/ISmhzfhORJ
Meanwhile, the North is in policy limbo. The DUP continues to pursue its Direct Rule-lite grandstanding, trying to convince everyone that its ‘work’ at Westminster is sheltering us from the cost of living storm. Sammy Wilson loved the not-budget, but his case for the union crumbles with every media interview he gives.
No wonder the momentum builds for unifying Ireland North and South. Ireland’s Future, mega meeting, 3Arena Dublin, Saturday 1st October. Not to be missed.
Co Antrim actor James Nesbitt to give main address at United Ireland gathering in Dublin this Saturday | Belfast News Letter https://t.co/1zper6YDEY— Ireland's Future - Todhchaí na hÉireann (@IrelandsFuture) September 26, 2022