IF you had returned from a two-month holiday without internet access and I told you the Chancellor had just announced a £9-an-hour minimum wage, a crackdown on non-doms and a reduction in the tax breaks for buy-to-let landlords, you could be forgiven for assuming Labour had won the election and Ed Balls was installed in Number 11 Downing Street.
Such is George Osborne’s skill as a political cross-dresser that he stole Labour’s Sunday best from under their noses and then paraded before the House of Commons passing off the smart new outfit as his own.
Labour clearly didn’t see this one coming. Their response was a passable impression of a freshly landed carp – the eyes were glassy and the mouth was opening and shutting, but nothing that made any sense came out.
During his time in office, Osborne has matured into an astute political operator with an unerring skill in pummelling Labour in the solar plexus.
Most impressive of all about this week’s Budget was the clarity of the thinking behind it – transforming Britain from, as David Cameron said, a “low wage, high tax, high welfare economy to a higher wage, lower tax, lower welfare country”.
Once Labourites had recovered from the shock of the minimum wage announcement, they concentrated on the curbs announced in child tax credits, claiming they would hit the poor.
Child tax credits amount to a complex money-go-round – working people pay taxes and some of them get money back from the state in the form of tax credits. The cost of this labyrinthine system has ballooned from £1.1bn a year when Gordon Brown introduced it in 1999, to £30bn today.
It makes millions of people clients of the state, but the biggest criticism of child tax credits is that it amounts to a huge taxpayer-funded subsidy to big business.
For example Tesco can continue paying workers low wages safe in the knowledge that the taxpayer will top up their salaries in form of tax credits. Left-wingers apparently think this corporate welfare to some of the richest businesses in Britain is a good thing.
Not all was good in the Budget – most notably the Chancellor has again let slip the deadline for eliminating the deficit so that Britain finally starts living within our means.
With the economy ticking along nicely, Osborne probably thinks this is a risk worth taking.
But that is to ignore the very real crises on the horizon. The whole Euro project could go belly-up at any moment and now it seems that China’s economic bubble could be about to burst; both would have horrible consequences for Britain. In 12 months time our economy could look very different to the sunny outlook of today and, for all of Osborne’s undoubted skill, we may come bitterly to regret not paying off the national credit card when we had the chance.
EU’s deaf ear
THE anti-democratic nature of the EU is no accident. It was forged just after World War Two when memories of Hitler’s popularity in Germany were fresh in the minds of its founders.
So the EU was deliberately designed to allow unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats to ignore the will of the people. As far as the European Commission is concerned, the so-called “democratic deficit” is not a bug, but a feature.
That’s why nothing infuriates EU bureaucrats more than national governments daring to consult their electors by holding referenda.
When both France and the Netherlands voted against the new EU Constitution in 2005, the EU simply ignored the vote and rebadged the constitution as the Lisbon Treaty.
When the people of Ireland rejected the Lisbon Treaty in 2008, they were told they had to keep on voting until they came up with a result more amenable to their masters in Brussels.
Now, in the most emphatic referendum vote to date, the Greek people have also rejected the European project and the poverty and misery that invariably accompany it.
But true to form the unelected EC president Jean-Claude Juncker simply dismissed the Greek referendum as an “irrelevant circus” and it, like the votes before it, will be ignored.
How much longer can the European Union continue ignoring the will of the people that it is supposed to serve?