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Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Utter Balls

Ways and Means Budget 
Resolutions and Economic Situation 
 12.55 pm Ed Balls (Morley and Outwood) (Lab/Co-op): The British economy is stagnating, unemployment is rising month by month, the Government’s deficit reduction plans have gone wildly off track, middle and lower-income families and pensioners are facing rising petrol prices, rising energy bills and falling living standards—and what did the Chancellor do in his Budget yesterday? Did he admit that his economic plan has failed? Did he act to kick-start the stalled recovery? Did he give any hope to young people facing long-term unemployment? Did he set out any vision of how, over the next 20 years, Britain can compete in the world and win the investment and skilled jobs we need? Did he ease the pressure on families by cutting fuel duty, or by cancelling perverse and unfair cuts to tax credits and child benefit? No.

The centrepiece of the Chancellor’s Budget, his top priority, and the political imperative for this oh so political Chancellor, was to spend more than £3 billion next year cutting the top rate of income tax for existing top rate taxpayers. People earning more than £150,000 a year—300,000 of them—are getting an average tax cut of £10,000 a year. How out of touch can he get? To add insult to injury, the Chancellor sprung another surprise tax rise by freezing the age-related personal allowance for 4.5 million pensioners and abolishing it entirely for soon-to-be pensioners. People on modest incomes who have worked hard and saved hard all their lives will be hit by the Chancellor’s tax grab on pensioners while he gives a £40,000 tax cut to 14,000 millionaires. What can we say about that?

Let me say to the Chancellor today: some of the electorate he really cares about—the selectorate in his own Conservative party—may be cheering, although after this morning’s headlines, I am not so sure. As the Financial Times reports this morning: “Some Tory backbenchers offered support for the measure”— on pensioners— “although they refused to be identified for fear of alienating their elderly constituents.”

Perhaps in a second some of those Conservative Back Benchers will break cover and back the pensioners tax grab in the Budget, but they are right to be worried, because all across the country, the real electorate will be thinking, “A tax cut for millionaires, paid for by millions of families and pensioners across this country? Same old Tories: looking after their friends while families and pensioners pay the price.” We will have to wait to see the details. There will be some winners and some losers, but the one thing that we can categorically confirm today is that thousands of pensioners in the hon. Lady’s constituency will lose up to £300 a year as a result of yesterday’s Budget. She did not say whether she supported that—hardly a clarion call of support for the Chancellor’s pensions tax grab.

I will make it absolutely clear: we will vote against the change in the Budget debates and I hope that he will join us in the Lobby. We will vote against it, but the Chancellor knows very well that I will not go through every tax rate, relief, allowance or spending commitment and make commitments for three years’ time. But if the election were called tomorrow, our manifesto would be clear—we would rescind the measure and the Government would go ahead with it. That is the difference.


Question put, 
That, notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the practice of the House relating to the matters that may be included in Finance Bills, any Finance Bill of the present Session may contain the following provisions about income tax taking effect in a future year— (a) provision that for the tax year 2013-14— (i) the basic rate is 20%, (ii) the higher rate is 40%, and (iii) the additional rate is 45%, and provision about other rates of income tax.

The House divided: Ayes 319, Noes 22.

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