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The budget pledge that never was

No-one was seriously expecting a give-away budget from Chancellor Phil Hammond last week and that’s probably just as well.

He may have lived down to overall expectations, but give the man some credit. After all, it takes a special skill-set to map out the nation’s economic future without ever once mentioning Brexit. Where ingenuity deserted him though was in assuming a hike in national insurance payments affecting 2.5 million self-employed would go through without too much hassle.

The ill-considered action was later described as merely a ‘rookie mistake’ by a predecessor. Then again, we’re talking about Norman Lamont who once famously invoked Edith Piaf (‘Je ne regrette rien’) to disparage his role in events that led to a 15% peak in interest rates. So not exactly a dependable benchmark.

Treasury spin claiming two-thirds of taxpayers would pay less sounded as plausible as an estate agent’s promise of a sea-view that didn’t involve standing on a window sill. The consequent fall-out was enough for Theresa May to step in with assurances that the matter had been kicked into the autumn long grass.

There was a passing moment of pathos when shadow chancellor John McDonnel belatedly claimed ‘Labour pressure’ had forced the climb down. His words however were buried by the hubbub of May’s backbenchers, business groups and flagship media all indignantly waving around their copies of the Conservative manifesto.

Since then the story has oddly morphed into one of how the most vociferous tory dissenters also happen to be Brexit fundamentalists who think Hammond is a unreconstructed Remainer – and therefore a future target.

If it was a tactical miscalculation, as is thought among the lobby-watchers, then it’s arguably also an indication of how far a Conservative government thinks it can potentially alienate natural supporters without any worry of them flocking to Labour’s anti-white van man banner.

Anyway, when it comes to manifesto promises, the pledge to “reward entrepreneurship” remains intact in respect of corporation tax at least. Although that might have something to do with how you don’t find nearly as many self-employed plumbers as hedge-fund managers among party donors.


More unfinished business

One item glaringly missing from the Chancellor’s speech was any mention of the imminent City Deal for the Swansea Bay region.

We were assured that the omission was absolutely unrelated to the overnight departure of advisor Michael Heseltine. It was even intimated by local one-trick politicians that there were shortcomings within the proposals.

Knowing first-hand the calibre and capabilities of the bid team, I’m inclined to give the latter suggestion about as much credence as a Katie Hopkins tweet. Apparently Welsh Office officials share my opinion.

Maybe I’m a little too cynical but I rather suspect the timing has been re-scheduled to enable podium opportunities at showcase party political events later this month. The same goes for the Tidal Lagoon. That’s all standard political practice. However, the lack of government support for free children’s funerals and measures to tackle pension inequality, both championed by Swansea East MP Carolyn Harris, simply comes across as meanness.


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