George Osborne and Ed Balls have gone head-to-head in the media – the former in The Sun on Sunday and the latter in The Sunday Mirror. The two also appeared on the Andrew Marr Show. Neither man said anything new, at least not in terms of the grand narrative, which is scarcely surprising because the electoral cycle is at the stage where new ideas do not have time to gestate.
This is especially true of the chancellor. Osborne has been under pressure to raise the threshold at which people pay the 40p rate. Osborne made it very clear to Andrew Marr that the government’s tax threshold reforms had benefited 25 million people; indeed, he spoke of his pride about this reform and reiterated that it suits 40p rate payers as well as low income earners. Next week’s budget will, doubtless, contain this populist rally cry, but Osborne’s fundamental message is that he will keep calm and carry on. The recovery is underway, he said, but it is not balanced and secure and he needs to build a resilient economy where housing is plentiful (there is to be a new ‘garden city’ in the south east), jobs are safe and Britain is paying its way in the world. (This morning, Fraser explains why Osborne’s plan is foolhardy.)
Ed Balls drew on Osborne’s admission of existing economic weakness, arguing that people are not feeling the recovery. Balls listed the various measures Labour would introduce to improve living standards – energy price freezes, childcare, the jobs guarantee and so on. Balls emphasised that all of these initiatives are properly funded; he made the point four or five times during his interview with Andrew Marr.
This emphasis is, of course, designed to reassure the British people that Balls will not be spending money that they haven’t yet earned. The Tories, incidentally, have an amusing document showing how hard Labour’s proposed banking levy will have to work to meet Balls’ numerous spending commitments; perhaps we’ll need a second City of London.
The economic debate, despite the recovery, is still dominated by the language and issues of the 2010 election – of deficits, cuts and spending. Those issues are, fundamentally, about trust – who do you trust with the public finances? Andrew Marr pressed Ed Balls to provide a clear commitment on spending cuts. Balls responded by listing Labour’s various planned tax rises; he could not name a cut – even for cuddly Andrew Marr.
On the evening of Wednesday 19 March 2014, Fraser Nelson, James Forsyth and Andrew Neil will be discussing what George Osborne’s 2014 budget means. Click here to book tickets.