I remember listening to an interview on the Today
Programme with Alistair Darling just after the pre-Budget
report back in December. In a moment of Mrs Merton-esque
incredulity, presenter Evan Davies began: "Tell me, Chancellor.
What made you decide to raise benefits just before the
Indeed - after yesterday's Budget, in which the rich (and
scrumpy-lovers) lost out and those at the lower end of the earning
scale seemed to be the winners, it was difficult not to observe the
parties well and truly gearing up for the election.
It was a clever Budget, actually. With the economy still
struggling to recover from the recession - £167bn worth of
borrowing may be less than was expected but it's still, as
Management Today put it, 'a pretty horrendous number'
- to the Labour government, the business vote counts for more than
And on the surface of it, small businesses were the winners: a
one-year cut to business rates, a new credit adjudication service
for businesses who think they've lost out unfairly on a bank loan
and a guarantee that banks will lend more than £90bn this year were
all encouraging. Darling also gave you a one-year cut in business
rates, capital gains tax relief for entrepreneurs and a promise to
give more government contracts to entrepreneurs.
But what of the things he didn't mention? A hike in Employers'
National Insurance contributions, announced during the pre-Budget
report, was only briefly alluded to (although David Cameron dwelled
on it for longer, describing it as 'a tax on every job in the
country'), while a 1p rise in fuel duty is going to be very
expensive for thousands of businesses.
The clamp-down on non-doms is also a big issue. Darling's
measures to expose those who are hiding their income in Belize,
Dominica and Grenada elicited a roar of approval from the Labour
front benches yesterday - but that could severely impact levels of
investment in the UK. Non-doms make up a significant portion of
private investors in the UK and, love them or hate them, the new
measures could be devastating to businesses.
So while on the surface, it appeared Darling was trying to court
the business vote, dig deeper and, to a certain extent, you are
also the ones who lose out. As Cameron put it, it felt a bit as
though the government was giving with one hand and taking with the
other - I suppose it just comes down to whether the giving and the
taking away balance out.