Much of this year’s Budget comes as little surprise. With a tight fiscal background and given George Osborne’s penchant for playing to the gallery, so much is predictable. Ditto the widely-trailed coalition announcements on the income tax threshold (where Nick Clegg has been desperate to stop the Tories claiming credit for the policy they opposed in 2010) and childcare.
But where – again – are the unequivocally Liberal policies? Extending childcare for those in receipt of Universal Credit is absolutely the right thing to do: but when money is so tight, why the perk for the very wealthy who can afford it – and why not reforms to address the shortage of supply that would create jobs as well as helping those who need it most?
In coalition we have learned, however uncomfortably, to accommodate Tory posturing that is not progressive, damaging, or simply wrong. Again we have evidence: a dogmatic and damaging freeze on welfare, and an extension of the ISA savings limit that is mercifully the extent of the sops to the wealthy. Posturing, too, on a beer duty freeze that will give nothing to the consumer nor to the publican, but will simply be swallowed up by the big breweries and Osborne’s mates in the pubcos.
The clearest sense of Lib Dem priorities, though, came with the obvious influence of Steve Webb, who’s work at DWP has reformed pensions; it was striking that this was where many of the surprises were. The party will need to get behind this and claim it as the Lib Dem success it is. Much the same goes for Vince Cable successfully securing a much higher tax-free investment allowance of £500,000 for businesses – we have to show voters this is our win.
As for the rest,it is same old, same old. Resting on laurels on employment; little to tackle low pay in a meaningful way; and nothing of the promised incentives for housebuilding. The opportunities for Liberal Democrats to set out our priorities couldn’t be clearer