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Is Budget a bribe to save Chequers plan?

PUBLISHED: 15:42 01 November 2018

Chancellor Philip Hammond holding his red ministerial box outside 11 Downing Stree with Treasury colleagues Robert Jenrick and Liz Truss
Photo: PA / Stefan Rousseau

Chancellor Philip Hammond holding his red ministerial box outside 11 Downing Stree with Treasury colleagues Robert Jenrick and Liz Truss Photo: PA / Stefan Rousseau

PA Wire/PA Images

Past Budgets have quickly fallen to pieces.

Who could forget George Osborne’s pasty tax or Gordon Brown’s cut in the basic rate of income tax that actually left low-earners worse off?

And current chancellor Philip Hammond has blundered before as well. Just seven days after his first Budget he was forced into an embarrassing U-turn after being accused of a tax raid on Britain’s self employed.

MORE: ‘Norfolk got no Budget cash because it is a basket case’

But it seems Mr Hammond has come out of this Budget largely unscathed. Theresa May might finally have something to smile about.

Like everything in British politics right now the Budget relates directly back to Brexit.

Mrs May has a plan. But, sadly for her, not many people seem to like it. “Chuck Chequers” was the phrase on everyone’s lips at party conference – back then it seemed impossible the proposal would get through parliament.

But now all that has changed. Mrs May, with the help of the chancellor, might just have played a blinder.

The key moment – the second the type of Brexit we finally get was truly formed – was when the Office of Budget Responsibility dropped its forecasts.

It was just days before Mrs May stood in front of her party and the numbers were good, far better than anyone could have expected. It meant that she could tell the nation that austerity was coming to an end. No wonder she was dancing.

Whether or not austerity actually is over remains contentious of course.

But the Budget was feel-good. Finally, for the first time in a very long period, the chancellor was able to reach for his wallet and splash the cash.

For the prime minister this is double-bubble good news.

Firstly, national mood impacts politics hugely. Happy people tend to re-elect standing governments. And with payouts for the NHS and the increase in tax allowance the headlines have been good for the government.

But perhaps more importantly she now has some leverage over those MPs that were wavering about whether to vote against Chequers when it comes to parliament.

The forecasts are based on Britain getting a Brexit deal. This makes it tougher for MPs to block Mrs May’s plan and effectively send Britain crashing out of the European Union.

The Brexiteers on the backbenches are fully aware of this – and haven’t they been quiet this week?

On top of this rumours of a deal on financial services being close will have also added a spring to the prime minister’s step.

So Mrs May has had a good week. And what will make it sweeter is Labour’s muddled response.

There was obvious annoyance at prime minister’s questions from Jeremy Corbyn. Labour fear that the Tories banging on about an end to austerity could spike their guns.

The plan was for Labour to grab power and put an end to austerity not the Conservatives. They now have to attempt to convince the public that austerity is in fact far from over.

On the face of it that should not be too much trouble. It will take the country years and years to recover from the spending cuts – one Budget will not even scratch the surface.

The chancellor will now be focussing squarely on the spending review which will take place next summer. If he can start dishing out more cash to departments at that point then maybe more people will be convinced that the good times are just around the corner.

Here in the East there was sadly not a great deal to smile about in the Budget. Aside from £6 million to help full fibre internet installation in Suffolk the region was not given any new cash. Norwich has the chance to bid for some money to improve public transport but that is far from guaranteed.

Labour MP Clive Lewis believes the East is ignored because there are too many safe Tory seats so the government does not have to dish out bribes. Lib Dem Norman Lamb believes it is because we do not have a devolved administration with a mayor banging tables in Westminster and demanding: “Show me the money.”

Whatever the reason it is disappointing. The potential for the East to be a powerhouse is clear and we must grasp the opportunities Brexit might conjure up. It is time for our politicians and business leaders to get together and start making plans. We should not be ignored.

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