James Forsyth

Darling’s nothing budget puts the ball in the Tories’ court

Darling's nothing budget puts the ball in the Tories' court
Text settings

This year’s Budget was never going to win the election for Labour but it could have lost it. If the markets had reacted really badly to it, warnings about how Britain is in danger of going Greek would have suddenly gained traction. But Darling avoided that fate with a Budget that did little. Listening to it, it was clear that those inside Labour who argued that the strategic imperatives for this Budget had to be appearing credible and not risking an adverse market reaction had prevailed. The mood music was very different from the PBR, with its emphasis on investment versus cuts.

Politically, the challenge for the Tories is this: there’s an instinctive view among the public that the Tories’ cuts will be harder than Labour’s, so the Tories have to make and win the argument that significant cuts are needed. That is going to involve persuading the country that it cannot go on spending more than it earns indefinitely and that a few taxes on the rich are not going to be anywhere near enough to plug the gap. One key part of this strategy is going to be making people understand that Labour’s only plan when it comes to the national debt is to increase it. As David Cameron put it in his Budget response, Labour will be ‘borrowing £734 billion over the next six years.’  

After the PBR, Peter Mandelson pretty much disappeared from the public view. By contrast, today he headed straight off to do a media round and well he might as Labour is now fighting the election on the fiscal turf he has long wanted it to.