Post budget smoke rings


SO how was it for you? Personally I cannot say for sure. Is George Osborne really lying next to me and lighting up a post-amorous cigarette and blowing smoke rings in my face? Or is that image just too disturbing to contemplate?

Budgets are political theatre, yes, and an attempted seduction too. The theatricals were evident in the photographs of yesterday’s stage-managed piece of financial and political jiggery-pokery. Gaze, if you dare, at the Chancellor and his Treasury team heading to the Commons with smarmy grins fixed wide. Gawp, if you have the stomach for it, at Iain Duncan Smith double-punching the air as Osborne announces his plans for a living wage.

And notice, if you glance in the other direction, the glum indignation on the faces of the Opposition benches as the Chancellor flourishes ideas he found while rummaging through Labour’s now redundant election drawer. A living wage and plans to move against nom-doms were Labour ideas, but governments are in the lucky position of being able to plunder ideas from wherever they wish.

Many of the smoke rings Osborne was blowing were floated in the air to fall round Labour like those plastic circles you throw at fairs. Only these aren’t rings but shackles thrown to trip Labour up.

Cleverly, and never forget what a shrewd and calculating politician Osborne is, the main and barely hidden purpose of the budget seems to have been to cast the Tories as the friend to the worker, while pushing Labour to the margins occupied by those who choose not to work or depend too heavily on benefits. This is dangerous stuff for Labour.

Man On Ledge has commented before on the absurdity of the government topping up low wages and in effect subsidising employers, often large corporations, which decline to pay their workers a decent rate for the job. Osborne’s surprise announcement yesterday appeared to answer that, although we shall have to hold back on that for a while. Budgets seems to arrive all the time nowadays, and their frequency should remind us that this is all about politics and not economics; all about the headlines and not what is going on beneath the star-glittered surface of the Westminster lake.

As for the living wage, this still doesn’t look like something most politicians would deign to live on. For those in penurious jobs, the rise – only applying to those over 25 – could well be eaten away by the removed benefits. And will the employers really be willing or able to pay the higher rate? A nice idea in theory, and certainly good politics, but will the living wage really be what it proclaims to be, or merely a marginally more generous minimum wage?

It’s always hard to tell with budgets. You have to wait for all those smoke rings to settle. Only time will tell and time doesn’t always do any favours to the excitable headlines on the day.

My own skim of what is proposed has so far failed to locate any measures designed to help men who sit on ledges while working on shaping a post-redundancy life.

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