Sunday, 23 March 2014

Comment on Coalition budget

My column in this coming week's Cornish Guardian focuses on the recent budget. It will be as follows:

The biggest (political) talking point of the last week was undoubtedly George Osborne’s fifth budget as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The Conservatives initially appeared happy with his budget statement until their Party Chairman launched a poster campaign in a bid to win over working-class voters, which backfired in spectacular fashion.

Focussing on their decisions to halve bingo duty and cut one penny from the price of a pint of beer, the poster exclaimed: “Bingo. Cutting the bingo tax and beer duty … to help hardworking people do more of the things they enjoy.”

Rightly condemned as patronising, this cringeworthy poster showed how certain senior politicians are out-of-touch with ordinary people. The poster even included the pronoun “they” – suggesting the Conservative authors of the slogan were not talking about themselves but “other” people.

And, unfortunately for the Conservatives, a large number of people quickly linked the poster to a famous quote in George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, which related to political control of the masses. It stated: “Films, football, beer and above all, gambling filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult.”

Personally I do not think that individuals and families – suffering the consequences of damaging cuts to their public services – will be taken in by one penny off a pint.

Away from the controversy over the bingo poster, I felt that the most compelling critique of the Coalition’s approach to the economy came from the Welsh political party Plaid Cymru.

Their leader, Leanne Wood, warned of the dangers of a “spreadsheet recovery” where the books look better but no improvement is being felt on the ground, while the Party’s economic spokesman pointed out how “growth in the overheating South East of England is masking the extended period of hardship being felt elsewhere.”

Recent government statistics on economic performance certainly highlight this imbalance between the various parts of the UK, and this is especially relevant for Cornwall – as our GVA is only 61.2% of the UK average.

That is why I am backing Plaid’s call for an Economic Fairness Bill to “rebalance the economy on a geographical and sectoral basis,” which would ensure a fairer distribution of investment and economic activity.

I also believe that Plaid was correct to point out that much of current growth is perched on a London housing bubble and a huge rise in personal debt – factors which lead to the economic problems of recent years – and that more should be done to prevent history repeating itself.

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