Friday, June 25, 2010

Budget cuts: top Lib Dems fire warning to Tories.

The left wing of the Liberal Democrats are making noises about the budget, but the noises they are making fall way short of an actual challenge to Osborne's regressive budget plans.

Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democratic party's newly elected deputy leader, has threatened that some Lib Dems might issue rebel amendments to the finance bill.

Hughes issued a blunt warning to the Tories that the government would break up if key pensioner benefits in the coalition agreement were cut. He launched the most significant intervention since the formation of the coalition in the debate that followed George Osborne's emergency budget on Tuesday when the chancellor of the exchequer said that welfare would bear the brunt of cuts.

Although Hughes, the veteran Lib Dem MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, said he supported harsh budget measures to help deal with Britain's weak public finances, he indicated that he was prepared to table rebel amendments to promote fairness. "If there are measures in the finance bill where we can improve fairness, and make for a fairer Britain, then we will come forward with amendments to do that because that is where we make the difference," he said.

The Lib Dem high command denied that there were any divisions. A spokesman said: "Given that fairness has been built into the budget there are no plans to lay any amendments."

The intervention by Hughes, which reflects the private misgivings of the former leaders Charles Kennedy and Sir Menzies Campbell, comes amid concerns among senior Lib Dems that Nick Clegg is wrong to claim the budget is progressive. Many MPs were alarmed after Robert Chote, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, described the budget as "somewhat regressive". Lib Dem spokesmen pointed out that Chote had said the budget was regressive if the effects of Labour's budget in March were stripped out. Hughes endorsed this view when he said: "This government has continued with those elements of the budget passed earlier in the year. On that basis it is a budget that produces greater fairness."

He said he had hoped that the budget would not raise VAT, which is "clearly less progressive". But he added: "It is a measure that is necessary when we have to fill a huge debt the Labour party has left us."

I am puzzled by the behaviour of the left of the Liberal Democrats. They appear to me like rabbits caught in headlights. They, of course, realise - as Hughes here admits - that a rise in Vat is regressive, but he's choosing to say that, as long as the government sticks by it's commitment to pensioners, then he will be able to pretend that this budget is progressive.

It's an extremely narrow area which Hughes is using to define what would and would not make this budget "progressive". If he had any honesty he would admit that this budget is actually a Tory wet dream, it's a classic Thatcherite attack on the weakest members of society, those dependent on benefits to get by.

Ed Miliband, for Labour, said: "It takes a long time to establish an honourable political tradition. But it takes a very short time to destroy it. Are [Lib Dems] still the party of Keynes, Beveridge and Lloyd George? We all know these three men would turn in their graves at the idea that the inheritors of the Liberal tradition were supporting this budget."

I happen to agree with that. I know several people who voted Lib Dem, but I can't think of anyone who voted for the kind of regressive cuts which the Tories are talking about implementing.

Hughes is trying to draw a line in the sand, but the line he is drawing is far away from any line which most of us would use to define what is progressive and what is not.

The left wing of the Liberal Democrats are rolling over, pretending that they are prepared to stand up on principle, but defining the place where battle will commence so far behind their own position that they have almost announced defeat before the war has started.

Click here for full article.

No comments: