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How to Respond to a Budget

John Rentoul

embudg How to Respond to a BudgetIt is not as if the response to the Budget is so very difficult.

All Ed Miliband had to do was to remember one of Matthew Parris’s parliamentary sketches of the early Blair:

He tweaked this, prodded that, inspected the teeth of a clause or two – and pronounced that it did not pass muster. It was all got up for the hustings.

That was Tony Blair, against Michael Howard on an employment green paper in 1991. A Budget is a bigger event, and Blair’s responses to those when he was leader of the opposition were unmemorable.

But unmemorable is better than embarrassing. Miliband’s response today was dangerously close to being memorable. The Conservatives put out a Facebook advert tonight listing all the things Miliband failed to mention in his speech: helping savers, pensions, capping welfare and apprenticeships.

But it was worse than that. Miliband failed to mention the Budget.

All he had to do was to say that the measures on pensions were interesting; that Rachel Reeves had raised the problem of people being forced to buy annuities offering low returns; that Labour would look at what the Chancellor was proposing and would support it if it was sensible.

Then he could have said the Budget was an attempt to prevent UKIP taking too many votes from the Tories at the European Parliament elections, that the Chancellor was running scared and it was “all got up for the hustings”.

Then he could have sat down and got away with not knowing the first thing about what George Osborne was talking about.

As it was, his floundering was all too obvious for everyone to see.

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  • Pacificweather

    I think we would have heard by now it the Tories had done anything unusual. I looked the articles you mentioned but they either missed the point or were making mischief. This was a very clever budget that Ed Balls would have cut off his right arm to deliver and it was clear the devil was in the detail. What could Ed M attack without becoming a hostage to fortune. Anything he said would have been thought of by the Tories who, being better informed, would come back at him. Also, Ed Balls might want to do something similar if Labour win the election. So he did a West Wing: don’t accept the premiss of the question. Say what will sound good on the six o’clock news. I think it worked and will not have done him any harm at all with the electorate.

  • newfriendofed

    I am going to assume you are right unless a smoking gun emerges.

  • reformist lickspittle

    Boulton is a well known right winger, Freedland a congenital pessimist (like quite a few on the liberal-left)

    Re whether Ed didn’t get advance copy of the budget – I haven’t seen any confirmation, but no denial from Treasury sources either. Labour maybe think that pushing the topic would look like making excuses and confirming the hostile hacks were “right”.

  • mightymark

    Good points especially the last para but as a former insider who was actually involved, in a very small way I should add, with the Budget I think most of these ideas are kicking around for some time – hardy annuals to be taken down from the shelf and dusted down as appropriate. In most cases the pros and cons have been well rehearsed and “lines to take” established – on both sides of the House.

    For example, knowing how dissatisfied people are, both with having to take out an annuity and the rates paid on them in recent years, any opposition doing a bit of budget item “spotting” could have foreseen the Government’s moves here were at least possible. As for the macro-economic effects, the basic figures (growth, public expenditure an debt etc) are all known and ready reckoners for change impacts must surely be available to front benchers at the click off a button.

    Now, I suppose if all Ed wanted to do was sobnd off again about cost of living – OK he did so – objective met. But the fuss that has ensued suggests that that was not enough for a reply to the Budget speech. And it isn’t just a matter of satisfying the media – not to reply well also demoralises one’s own troops, not to mention the potential effect of swing voters a years before the election. Someone is perhaps simply not doing their homework?

  • peter prince

    What I’m saying to extent in a way is that this performance by Ed M possibly shows how he isn’t up to the job as he wasn’t successfully able to tackle the budget head on. His role was to hold the government’s budget to account, which he didn’t do, his speech was one which was for the six o’clock news for another day, not budget day and I do think journalists and the ordinary voter will see through this as Ed repeats it constantly as he doesn’t have anther weapon in his armory and this lack of armory was shown up yesterday and this is the turning point where people are going to start seeing through him.

  • Pacificweather

    So, tell me what he should have said, precisely?

    The budget was not excessively right wing. It was aimed at the people who vote, naturally. He does not want to alienate the people who vote. So what does he say. Remember, the Tories have already promised tax relief for child care. That is worth a significant amount to most under 40s. Now he has targeted the those approaching retirement and anyone who thinks it is a good thing to save. He also targeted conservative poor women with the Bingo vote. How desperate is that? But he did so by talking about jobs – that is clever.

    George Osborne may be an old Etonian but he is a very intelligent man, much more so than Cameron. He talks better, he thinks better, he is formidable as a politician. What is more, he is lucky. He has no more idea than anyone else why the economy is growing but it is and I am sure he thanks his lucky stars for it.

  • peter prince

    I agree that the budget is somewhat pre-planned and predictable which makes it even more baffling that ed failed to address it. Poor homework indeed. I believe he may have thought they would bring up 40p tax rate, which they didn’t but he thought he’d address another irrelevant issue which wasn’t brought up. It shows both his lack of sharpness and organisation, which isn’t something you would expect from a good opposition leader

  • greggf

    Oh Pacific, you are such a cynic it’s (last para) almost poetry – hilarious..!
    I wasn’t going to intrude on this (premature) wake but I have to give you an up-point (more if I could) for the sheer enjoyment!


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