Peter Hoskin

Darling’s phoney Budget doesn’t change anything

Darling's phoney Budget doesn't change anything
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Was that a Budget sufficient to the fiscal nightmare that we face?  Well, I think we all could have answered that question before Alistair Darling stood up at the dispatch box, but now we can at least be sure: no, it wasn't.  The government's overall spending plans remain roughly the same as they were in the PBR, there aren't many tax increases to raise much money for the Treasury, and we're meant to be all excited that borrowing is £11bn lower this year than previously forecast – at £167bn.  It's a shame that Darling increased alcohol duty, or we'd all be be out celebrating that particular success, I'm sure.

If you're feeling charitable to the government, you could say that if might have been worse.  Given that there's election on the horizon, there might have been more spending giveaways to sway hearts and minds.  But, as it is, it's difficult to see how this will attract many, if any, votes.  There are the government's feted "guarantees," of course – but we've heard about them before.  And I doubt the government's package of measures for small businesses will be met with much gratitude by those who have had their general tax burden increased in recent years.

In the end, the sight of Labour MPs cheering and whooping as Darling announced a link-up with Belize on tax evasion rather summed up the day for me.  This was a pointless, phoney event, which will leave the markets less convinced than ever, and the debt burden almost as high.  Let's wait for a real Budget, after the election.

P.S. Technical problems got in the way of the Coffee House live blog earlier – apologies.  It should have been sorted now, so you can read all of our live updates and observations here.