'It is not clear to us whether these mixed messages are a deliberate attempt to obscure your plans or a symptom of a confused approach to policy but either way the public deserves better.'
Fair enough. Osborne's policy has become more concrete in recent weeks, but much remains still to do. Peversely, I think they've given too much detail, and have been found out because they haven't seen the nation's books.The reduction in the amount of cuts that are planned is a case in point.
But talk about hypocrisy: take a look at Labour's economic policy in the run-up to the budget. They are certainly clear on cuts: there aren't going to be any. But the rest is nebulous and confused. The government make a lot of noise about protecting employment; there are a deluge of initiatives, such as the Future Jobs Fund and the Young Person's Guarantee of work. The National Insurance hike negates these worthy causes. Yet Labour needs the cash, both because of the state of the public finances and also because the 50p rate is a political stunt that will deepen the nation's fiscal crisis.
The 50p rate is symptomatic of Labour's confusion on the tax regime. Liam Byrne has claimed that no further tax rises are necessary to redress the deficit. That of course does not rule out a rise on duties, but Byrne's statement was emphatic. Two days ago Peter Mandelson contradicted him: tax would rise if necessary. So I agree with Milburn et al. The electorate does deserve better. And I hope that Boateng, Milburn and Smith are composing a letter to Alistair Darling.