Philip Hammond (Photo: Getty Images)
 Philip Hammond (Photo: Getty Images)

POLITICS

A budget that’s unlikely to change your life (or Theresa May’s)

Yesterday’s budget means business as usual for most people. And that’s a problem, says Gaby Hinsliff

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By Gaby Hinsliff on

There’s a cartoon you’ve almost certainly seen, if not on a birthday card than on Facebook or Pinterest or anywhere else exasperated women have shared the hell out of it.

It features a lone businesswoman surrounded by men at a meeting, and the caption is: “That’s an excellent suggestion, Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men would like to make it?”

And right now, Ed Miliband must feel somewhat like Miss Triggs. Only a couple of years ago the then Labour leader was accused of being a student Marxist for promising such revolutionary ideas as capping gas bills, more cash for public services, and sorting out the crazed property market by building more and threatening to compulsorily purchase land from developers if they don't actually build on it.

Well, how things change when you nearly lose an election to Jeremy Corbyn. Having hastily nicked the gas bills idea last year, this week the Tories unveiled a Budget that went almost the full Miss Trigg. There’ll be more money for the NHS, a new taskforce to end homelessness, more council houses (and yes, moves to end so-called land banking) plus steps to ease the pain caused by new welfare reforms and possibly even a cuddly eco tax on disposable bottles and coffee cups to stop the oceans filling up with plastic junk. Thatcherite, it certainly wasn’t. But will it convince the voters that the Tories really have listened, and changed?

New targets to build an extra 300,000 houses a year could still make a real difference – but that will take longer to filter through
 

This isn’t a Budget that will change anyone’s life overnight, although it did make clear we can all brace ourselves for a spectacularly dismal few years around Brexit. (If you’re wondering why all the fuss about growth forecasts being revised down, basically that means the economy will be weaker than thought, pay rises are likely to be less generous, and there'll be less to spare for public services; meanwhile, we’ll be spending billions on preparing for Brexit and no, funnily enough, that’s not what it said on the Vote Leave bus.)

The big headline was scrapping stamp tax for first-time buyers on properties up to £300,000, which will save some lucky people up to £5,000, but it’s most likely to help those already within touching distance of being able to buy, not the millions struggling even to scrape together a big enough deposit never mind worrying about stamp duty. The risk meanwhile is that by propping up demand from buyers, it’ll just push up prices for those coming up behind. In the longer term, new targets to build an extra 300,000 houses a year could still make a real difference – but that will take longer to filter through.

Other than that it was good news for electric car owners (more charging points), gin drinkers (no extra duty on spirits, wine or beer) and maths lovers, with plans to encourage more kids to take the subject to A-level; but bad news for diesel drivers (car tax goes up for those that don’t meet tough new air pollution standards) and tax dodgers, with billions due to be raised by clamping down on corporate tax avoidance. For everyone else, it’s pretty much as you were. And that in a way is the problem.

So long as Philip Hammond’s sums don’t fall apart after a few days of light prodding, this Budget should help the government put the shambles of the last few weeks behind it. But there’s little here that will change anyone’s life, and that arguably includes Theresa May’s. If it was meant to be a dramatic reboot, a chance to start afresh with the voters, then it’s fallen short of expectations but perhaps those expectations were never fair in the first place.  All it really tells us is something that, if we’re honest, we already knew; that Brexit casts a long dark shadow over everything right now, that nothing May does distracts attention from that for very long, and that every day Labour is snapping more impatiently at her heels.

@gabyhinsliff

 Philip Hammond (Photo: Getty Images)
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