Tory MPs line up to criticise Darling’s Budget

April 23, 2009 at 11:06 am Leave a comment


by Dan Billingham

In the Commons yesterday the 2009 budget was compared to a narcotic orgy, sickness-inducing food and slapstick comedy by Conservative backbenchers furious with the borrowing and spending plans announced by Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling.

An entertaining range of grievances were heard in the first installment of the four-part budget debate.

The fiery rhetoric fully compensated for a lack of MPs, who had mostly fled the chamber to analyse the budget report after Mr Darling’s speech and the leaders of the opposition parties’ responses.

John Redwood rose to savage what he termed “the Damian McBride memorial budget.”

It was, he said, essentially an exercise in spin that contained “fantasyland economics” while promising a dangerous increase in public debt.

“The Government are not married to Prudence, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Indeed, the Prime Minister—the former Chancellor—divorced her many years ago. Now they are holding a drink and drugs party on the poor lady’s grave, inviting everyone to come along and spend as much borrowed money as possible.”

Redwood continued to bemoan “the improbable gymnastics” of what he deemed the government’s unlikely projections of a “trampoline recovery”.

“£60 billion of needless losses subsidising rich bankers and foolish banks” and a “public sector spending binge” would in no way reverse Britain’s economic misfortunes, he told MPs.

He used another colourful metaphor to lambast government economic management:

“We lurched from careering up the motorway at 140 miles an hour to trying to do a complete stop—an emergency brake—by putting interest rates up and withdrawing funds from the market.

“They overdid it, so we lurched from excessive boom to excessive bust, and we, the passengers in the car, were hurled towards the windscreen by the effort to bring the vehicle to a grinding halt.

“It was a disgraceful piece of bad driving for which the Government will not be forgiven for a very long time.”

Labour’s Sir Stuart Bell thanked Mr. Redwood for his speech before pointing out that had his opposition to bank bailouts been followed, economic collapse and a global depression would have ensued.

“If one ever wanted to know what the Conservative philosophy was, it could be heard from the right hon. Member for Wokingham [Redwood]. If he has his way, our public sector and our banks will disappear, the EU will descend under the North Sea and we will all be happy citizens of the realm.

“What is important is that the Government of the day take the measures that they must” said Sir Stuart, who opined that “in the long term, the proposals will work”.

Michael Jack, Conservative member for Flyde, said:

“The first test that one has to apply to any budget is a bit like the question that one asks after a Chinese meal: ‘There is an awful lot of it to digest, but how will I feel in the morning?’ ”

He went on to complain that the budget totally disguised the extent of Britain’s economic pain.

“I am afraid that, while President Obama may talk about glimmers of hope, we may be talking—if we are still here in 12 months’ time—about glimmers of true disaster.”

While Mr Jack felt distinctly uneasy, party colleague David Maclean appeared to have found a comic side to government economic handling.

“The film ‘Carry On Regardless’ was followed a few years later by ‘Carry On up the Khyber’. This was a carry on regardless budget, but it will be followed by carry on up the creek without a paddle in a year’s time if we do not start cutting wasteful Government expenditure now.”

In addition to Tory barbs, Alistair Darling’s budget also drew reservations from the Labour benches arguing that spending plans were not extensive enough or focused on the wrong sectors. Alan Simpson was the most critical Labour member.

“We require budgets that live more lightly and sustainably on the planet,” he said.

“Sadly, today’s budget is several steps away from that.

“I urge Ministers to think again and find the courage to step in and act in transformational terms to save the ecological future of our society and our country.

“It is infinitely more important and urgent than the situation in which they found the courage to intervene to save a banking system that, some would argue, would have been better left to collapse.”

This environmental note had previously been sounded by Labour’s Barry Gardener, who said: “The key consequence on which the Budget will and should be judged is not how quickly we see the green shoots of recovery, but how deep and how wide it spreads the green roots of sustainability.”

John McFall, Labour chair of the treasury committee, declared he would be scrutinising the budget’s controversial long-term economic forecasts. Turning his attention on youth unemployment he added that “it is important that the Government help young people. The measures announced today are welcome in that regard.”

Mr McFall concluded that he would have liked to have seen more extensive measures to assist those vulnerable of the recession’s social consequences.

Frank Field, Labour member for Birkenhead, wondered what the political consequences of the divisive budget would be. He reckoned that the problem of balancing the public book would be the central political issue for the rest of his life, offering “enormous opportunities for radical politics. I hope to be around for a few years yet to participate in that.”

Liberal Democrat Willie Rennie warned about a lack of a coherent long-term economic planning.

“If people are to buy into the pain that we will experience, they need to know what is the promise—the pledge—for the future, but there was nothing for them to grab other than a series of individual announcements. I welcomed some of them.

“However, there was no big vision. There was nothing for people to grab hold of and consider to be worth going through pain for.”

The budget debate continues in the Commons this afternoon. After yesterday’s debate and some dramatic media reaction to the budget, a thunderous sitting can be expected.


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