It used to be said that you should never judge a Budget on the day, but wait until the weekend when the secrets of the Red Book have revealed themselves after closer inspection. Well in the age of twitter that process seems to have accelerated dramatically and this week it took only a matter of hours before the backlash began against what initially seemed a safe and boring Budget.
The tax increase on the self-employed is causing a hell of a furore on the Tory backbenches and in the Tory press, because it seems to target the risk-takers and job-creators most Conservatives believe they are in politics to help. In a really amateurish exercise in media management, the Chancellor’s team pre-briefed all of the Budget’s “good news” beforehand, leaving the National Insurance rises the only new news on the day and therefore inevitably the focus of press attention. They then seemed taken aback when people pointed out this was a direct breach of a manifesto commitment not to raise NI, rather implausibly claiming the commitment only related to Class 1 NIC’s, not Class 4. Except the manifesto didn’t say that, and you seldom get far in politics by dancing on the head of a pin.
Budget u-turns used to be as rare as Budget leaks were, but now both are almost par for the course and the PM has already said that she they will delay the vote on the NIC increase until the Autumn. Whilst this move is designed to take the heat out of the immediate backlash, more likely it will allow the coalition against this move to grow and to organise. If she wanted to press this through, she would have been smarter to get the vote out the way almost immediately. As it is, whether its compensation for the self-employed in some other way, or a delay, reduction or cancellation of the tax rise in its entirety; we should expect some sort of climb-down from the Government on this one.
All of which creates the feeling that after a 9 month honeymoon period for Theresa May and the Government, ‘politics as usual’ is returning. Now if only Britain had an Opposition worthy of the name, then things really might get interesting.