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Budget 2014: a torpedo Budget which will split the Shadow Cabinet

24 March 2014

Last week’s budget has transformed the political landscape. The welfare cap, new savings and pensions freedoms and ‘NISA’s, have all been much commented on. So too other micro measures, like the very welcome continued investment in science and innovation for the innovation economy, and support for exports.

But I think the events of Wednesday went far beyond entrenching the defining key fiscal reforms of ‘Osbornomics’. It laid down the dividing lines on which we will fight, and can win, the next election. And as we saw in the Chamber on Budget day it has brilliantly exposed the growing tensions between Ed Balls and Milliband, who couldn’t agree how to respond. This is a slow-fuse torpedo Budget which has holed Labour amidships. You can already hear the cracking as their ship founders.

With Election Day now less than 14 months away, after the phoney war of the last two years, the Budget marked the real beginning of Election 2015 hostilities. Chancellor Osborne unleashed his pre-D Day economic barrage from the Treasury artillery on Wednesday. And – to the embarrassment of all watching on – Her Majesty’s Opposition seemed to have turned up armed with little more than a water pistol.

With just over a year until the public has to decide whose finger it wants on the nuclear button, the choice is becoming brutally clear. On Wednesday, George Osborne had the guts to tell the public the truth about the scale of the car crash in the public finances under Labour. He was candid in saying that we don’t currently export enough, manufacture enough or build enough. He didn’t flinch in addressing the long-term structural faults that have bedevilled our economy for a generation, namely spending too much and saving too little. He was refreshingly frank about the scale of the challenge, the work still to be done and the measures needed to finish the job. The message was clear: it isn’t easy, but we’re getting back on track. Don’t hand the car keys back to the debt drunkards who crashed the British economy last time, are in denial and show no signs of any attempt at economic rehab. It was a crystal clear, hard edged political and economic Budget which framed a clear choice.

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The contrast with Ed Milliband’s response was palpable. Here was Milliband’s chance to set out the defining vision of his new One Nation economics. His chance to share the fruits of the detailed, provocative and potentially interesting policy review carried out by Jon Cruddas and Lord Glasman to define a popular capitalism of ‘moral markets’.

Yet what we saw on Wednesday was an embarrassing mix of class war, pantomime knockabout and red meat for Labour’s union paymasters. Milliband’s performance really was woeful. Don’t take it from me. Even centre-left commentators were embarrassed. The pained faces on the Labour frontbench said it all. In the Chamber there’s only one thing worse than the barrage of noise from your opponents on the other side. Silence from your own behind you. As Milliband played Sixth Form knockabout we watched in silence as his own benches, including some on his front bench, winced.

The fact is that his performance is symptomatic of the uneasy truce at the top of the Labour party which is fraying fast. As witnessed by Ed Balls’ sour post-Budget briefing to journalists, Wednesday exposed real tensions in the Shadow Cabinet. It has become painfully obvious that Balls and Milliband had not been able to prepare an agreed response. Balls’ contempt for Milliband’s ‘New Socialism’, and Milliband’s recognition that his Shadow Chancellor’s unapologetically Brownite views and inability to accept any responsibility for the failures of the Brown debt crash are an election-risking albatross around the party’s neck – have been made clear for all to see.

The remorseless nature of election scrutiny soon uncovers which party is bluffing their way through. Last week, the Chancellor showed that only the Conservatives have the serious policies for these serious times, whilst Labour fell apart in a vacuum of stale phrases and retro class war.

It’s clear that Milliband and Balls are not at one. This weekend’s polls show their inability to set out a shared, coherent, and responsible economic programme to deal with the debt legacy they left us is rightly alarming middle England. The Budget showed what is becoming increasingly apparent – the reforming, entrepreneurial, progressive centre-ground agenda is now led by a new generation of Conservatives. And Balls and Milliband’s deep tensions over how best to respond to Osbornomics are splitting the Shadow Cabinet.

Ed Milliband is going to have to decide whether he is bold enough to reshuffle his cabinet, and his Chancellor, to stand a chance of winning. Or will he continue with the current muddle and hope the consolidation of the public sector and Lib-Lab centre left core vote, off the back of likely Government unpopularity following a hugely difficult programme of austerity, is enough to disguise the cracks and get them into office?

This week’s Budget has made that a lot less likely. He’s shown in his treatment of his brother that he has the killer instinct when required. Will he take the opportunity of a summer reshuffle to repair the damage this week’s torpedo Budget has done to his economic credibility? Or risk failing the no:1 test of any Opposition: economic credibility.

George Freeman is the Conservative MP for Mid Norfolk and a founder of the 2020 Conservatives and a Prime Ministerial Trade Envoy.

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Show comments
  • Yusuf

    My sense says that you increasing your budget.

  • David Webb

    Miliband? With one l?

  • Daidragon

    Some over excited Tories in this thread. The pension reform is a good idea but it doesn’t affect anywhere near the majority of voters. It will shore up the Tory vote rather than win new voters. Like right to buy, it is a policy aimed at the ‘haves.’ The first clutch of post budget polls all show Labour still ahead with their share unchanged. The electorate is polarised. The Tories still stuck in the low to mid thirty percentage. It will be a hung parliament.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Makes a change from over excited lefties everywhere else.

  • Colonel Mustard

    Labour, or rather the unions, picked the wrong brother. David, for all his faults, would have presented a more down to earth, civilised and self-effacing personality to the electorate, not resorting to the strident Chavez-type ‘Dear Leader’ posturing of Son of Communist. As a Blairite the silver lining to that cloud would have been the purging of Brown’s gang of weird has-beens, of which Son of Communist is a prime example.

    The ‘one nation’ tack is a spectacular own goal for two reasons. Firstly it flies in the face of Labour’s own record of dividing the country into warring factions and deliberately imposing a revolutionary level of uncontrolled immigration. Secondly it has the sinister stench of Blair’s “Labour is nothing less than the political wing of the British people as a whole”, a staggeringly arrogant presumption that when taken with the boasts of being a ‘movement’ rather than a party and their tribal, quasi-religious posturing reveals an unattractive aspiration to create a single party state.

    Labour might scrape through with their vote manipulation and client state but they won’t enjoy popularity and they won’t last. The country won’t tolerate another wave of loony left cultural revolution from them or their comrades in the less than civil service.

    • HookesLaw

      You are right Colonel since by picking the younger one they lost the services of the elder one. But how can we expect labour to be united when the two brothers themselves cannot agree. Clearly there were deep waters between them, the sensible thing would have been for Ed to support David, he had time on his side, but the Brownite clique could not stomach David and clearly had no faith in Balls.

      Always dangerous changing party leader and whilst I despise the man, Labour were mad to get rid of Blair. All down to Brown’s plotting and to be fair to Blair (yes I know…) at least once he realised how bonkers Brown was he resisted handing over to him.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        Well, never fear, you wound up with your guy Dave the H2B, after your guy Tone departed.

    • BarkingAtTreehuggers

      All we want is to see is *the budget of that cultural revolution* split evenly, not 80% of it being expended on culture in the capital only.

      • Colonel Mustard


        • BarkingAtTreehuggers

          Of course it’s hyperbole – I merely expanded on “cultural revolution” (your words). 80% of cultural budgets are expended as I outline. Why? A loony left issue? How?

          • Colonel Mustard

            My words related to New Labour subjecting England to a leftist cultural revolution from 1997 to 2010 and that was only indirectly related to budgets. Once again you are hi-jacking comments. Try writing your own.

            • BarkingAtTreehuggers

              Ah, so you now acknowledge the relevance of my comments. At what point and to what extent they were meant to challenge yours (given they expand on the subject) remains to be seen.

              • Colonel Mustard

                Your “comments” were and are relevant only to you. You try to be clever with other peoples comments only to provoke arguments. Write your own.

  • Foeu

    It doesn’t matter how bad the opposition is. The Conservatives stand little chance of winning the election with Cameron as their leader.

  • texasfrank

    OK, but don’t you think you at least owe the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition the courtesy of not misspelling his name every time you use it?

    [Sub-editors asleep on the job again?]

    • Alexsandr

      Millipede? Millitw@t?

      • the viceroy’s gin

        Millicomrade? Millitraitor?

    • Ian Walker

      Frances O’Grady didn’t appear in the article.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Bottom line, Labour do not want to trust people with their own money. And that does tend to put people`s back up.

  • monty61

    Enough of these pointless puff pieces. ‘Unimaginative Tory MP agrees with Government’ is hardly worth the effort of sticking a headline on it.

    • HookesLaw

      How did you type that with your head stuck in the sand?

      • the viceroy’s gin

        …maybe he’s been watching you, and learned well.

  • Tony_E

    The question for me is ‘what will the two Eds do once they have power?’

    It looks to me that a more left wing re-run of the Blair/Brown wars is inevitable unless Miliband gets ruthless and sacks Balls pretty soon.

    • HookesLaw

      Both Balls and Miliband were Gordon Brown aids and gofers. We get Brown lunacy from either of them.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        …so no different than you Darling-copying Camerluvvies, then?

  • swatnan

    The Cabinet is already split, into Lib Dems and the Conservatives and Women.

    • MrsDBliss

      What do you mean?

  • Kitty MLB

    Tweedledee and Tweedledum are not going to say
    what they will do because that would mean them
    admitting that they will resume their previous reckless
    agenda. With Browns two boys in charge.
    Is one expecting honesty from a socialist dctatorship.
    The budget last week was a real Conservative, strong,
    imaginative budget, not really a coalition budget and that is where
    Labour were trapped.
    And Ed Silibland started his embarrassing pre written rant
    when he mentions the Bullington Club you know he is desperate,
    and will never be brave enough to castrate Bonkers Balls.

    • Mike Barnes

      “The budget last week was a real Conservative, strong,
      imaginative budget”

      Which bits? Because the pension changes were designed by a Lib Dem with the explicit aim of increasing tax revenues at the Treasury. People are supposed to take more of their money up front in a lump sum, and pay tax on it over the course of the next Parliament to help close the deficit.

      The 40p tax threshold barely moved, 45p is there forever more, and the 10,500 allowance is another Lib Dem idea.

  • RavenRandom

    Good points. With the election 14 months away the public is increasingly expecting Labour to say what they would do rather than what they would not. On Wednesday it became clearer that Labour has and had no plan other than hoping Conservative unpopularity would let them back in.

    • HookesLaw

      I think the quibbling over pensions has sent a message of lack of trust in the people. I think that is going to resonate.

      Presumably Farage was in the pub – has he surfaced yet – or is he too busy dishing out his Euro expenses?

      • the viceroy’s gin

        He’s probably chuckling at you Camerluvvies, up to your old fantasy games. A year ago, “the big speech” was going to solve all of your boy Dave’s problems. Over and over and over again, you apparatchiks blathered about “big speech… big speech… big speech”.

        Like just saying that over and over and over again would make your dreams come true, well that and a tap of your ruby slippers. Didn’t quite work out that way for yoos, did it?

        A bit of deja vu here, lad. You better give those shoes a tap again, a good hard one this time. Maybe it’ll work. But I doubt it.

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