On my way to the Chamber on Budget Day I passed the Shadow Cabinet room full of Labour researchers and analysts hunched over their screens, poised to feed the Leader of the Opposition pithy amendments to his speech in reply to the Chancellor’s Budget. I like sitting in the gallery for these events. From there you can usually see the Leader of the Opposition crossing out large sections of his speech as the Chancellor second guesses his attack lines. Whatever the researchers passed to Jeremy Corbyn made no difference to his reply to the Budget. He stuck to what he thought the Chancellor was going to say (rather than what he did) and nothing was going to deflect him.
In fairness it’s the most difficult speech of all for the Leader of the Opposition because he has no more idea than you or me what is in the Budget until the Chancellor stands up to speak.
It’s no easy task for the Chancellor either as recent Budgets have proved. By tradition, unlike Ministers at the despatch box at other times, the Chancellor may drink alcohol during the Budget speech if he wishes. Despite sticking to water (unlike some of his predecessors – Ken Clarke’s tipple was whisky, Nigel Lawson’s a spritzer), he seemed relaxed and almost jovial during his hour-long speech. Amongst the numerous announcements I was pleased to see an accent on help for the lower paid and the young. The National Living Wage goes up from next April by 4.4% to £7.83, meaning full-time workers will be on average £2,000 better off since it was introduced. The National Minimum Wage for young people will rise by around 5%, the largest increase in youth rates in ten years. And people will get to keep more of what they earn with the personal tax allowance rising to almost £12,000, up nearly £5,000 from 2010.
The introduction of the new ‘millennial’ railcard for 26 to 30 year olds will reduce the cost of travel on the trains by one-third. And the freeze on fuel duty, for the eighth successive year, saving the average driver around £160 a year, will make a difference to anyone living in rural West Berkshire and reliant on their car to get about.
Our young people need homes and it was good to see a real determination to help deliver on this with the target of 300,000 new homes per year, planning reform to unlock land for building, the abolition of stamp duty for over 80% of first-time buyers and more investment taking Government support for housing up to £44 billion. They also need jobs and the Chancellor promised increased investment in business and skills, with the South East set to benefit from the decision to make Reading home to a Tech Hub supporting many businesses in this area.