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Backbenchers want a cost of living Budget

29 January 2013

Aside from Ed Balls’ attack on George Osborne for going ‘on the piste’ in Davos, Treasury question time in the Commons today was interesting not for what Labour did or didn’t have to say, but for some of the pushes from the Tory backbench on helping those on low incomes. Sometimes it’s the pattern of the questions that matters more than the individual answers.

Many of the questions were pitches for the Budget, which also gave ministers the opportunity to not really answer them. Robert Halfon asked about reintroducing the 10p income tax rate, to which Greg Clark said he noted the MP’s bid for the Budget, adding:

‘But he will know that we have taken people out of tax, which has been important in restoring incentives and the rewards people have for going back to work.’


Treasury Select Committee chair Andrew Tyrie also asked a cost of living question: on fuel duty. He said:

‘The recent cancellation of the rise in fuel duty in the autumn statement was very welcome news for all our constituents, and it will help with jobs. Our constituents now need greater certainty about future rises, so will the Chancellor accept the Treasury Committee’s recommendation, published today, that he should use the Budget to set out a clear medium-term strategy for fuel duty?’

Osborne’s answer was simply to state the improvements the coalition had made on Labour’s fuel duty policy, and to refer to the money he had garnered last night from the Swiss government as a demonstration that the government was taking the recommendations of Tyrie’s committee seriously.

Similarly Henry Smith urged Danny Alexander to ‘be bold and go further’ on income tax cuts as part of his question on what the Treasury is doing to reduce the cost of living. What’s clear is that backbenchers are firstly keen to trumpet the government’s achievements so far on tax cuts, but are also concerned about the continuing effect of the cost of living on their party’s standing in the polls. They are aware that as much as GDP figures might raise or dampen spirits in Westminster, so long as their constituents feel under pressure from high fuel and food prices, they might not feel as though the government is making much of a difference to them. For them, this needs to be a cost of living budget.

P.S. Spare a thought for poor Duncan Hames, who also had a question on the order paper, but wasn’t able to ask it. As the session wore on, the Lib Dem MP leapt up to catch the Speaker’s eye with such enthusiasm he risked toppling over onto the bench in front. Sadly, even though he was also pulling a most excellent Keen Face with raised eyebrows and hopeful smile when trying to catch Bercow’s eye, his wish was never granted. For the record, he wanted to ask about the second wave of city deals.

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  • Noa

    Duncan Hames? Surely Isobel, you are not alluding to the old ‘stupid dwarf’ spat that the poor fellow inadvertently triggered?

    All done and forgotten I have no doubt…

    • Daniel Maris

      Is it disrespectful to use terms of strict accuracy?

      • the viceroy’s gin

        …not if they fit precisely.

  • Tom Tom

    We face a massive devaluation of Sterling this year as Currency Markets replace Bond Vigilantes so the cost of FOOD and ENERGY and FUEL will climb much higher. We need action on price rises especially where cartels are fixing prices

    • HooksLaw

      I suggest you name the cartels and pass your evidence on to the regulating authorities – such actions are illegal.
      Is the wholesale oil futures market a cartel – my definitions are a bit hazy.

      Meantime oil prices seem set to fall. but we only have the Guardians word i grant you.

      • Tom Tom

        You really think cartels are “illegal” and “regulating authorities” will prevent them ? You are more naive than I had given you credit for. Does your teacher make your world lovely and safe by keeping the big girls from bullying you in the playground ? Does mummy pick you up from school and hold your hand as she puts on your lovely red boots to walk in the snow ? You are such a lucky one to have such caring females to make your life so lovely and secure…….and now you feel the government is like your mummy……naivety !

        • Daniel Maris

          For each sector there should be a trading arm of the state that can affect the market. So, when gas and oil climb in price, or when they should be coming down, let the state trading arm intervene with some judicious selling.

          • Tom Tom

            So where does The State get the gas ? Where does it source the peanut oil and pork bellies and soya and wheat ? How does it circumvent Biofuels Rules tying food prices to oil ? How does it stockpile cocoa and coffee to stop the speculator ramping ? How does it explain as oil companies cannot – price increases off-season in petrol when no shortage exists ? And what does The State do about all that liquidity Central Banks are supplying to banks and hedge funds ?

            • the viceroy’s gin

              Don’t ask complicated questions.

              Some extra liebensraum (and foreign gold reserves) will take care of all those details.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            Jawohl, mein fuhrer!

  • telemaque

    A timely chance to reprise the genius of the charismatic Ed Balls and his non doctrinaire background

    At Oxford he joined all three of the main political parties’ university societies, having read a novel in which one of the characters does precisely this in order to meet more people. In short, his was a background of committed Labour morality without being one of traditional Labour culture. He could be socially at ease with Tories even though he did not agree with them. This non-tribalism is at refreshing variance with the patrician Osborne-Cameron duo.

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