The apolitical nature of the budget was interesting this week. In an atmosphere of near total opposition facing the public association, a visibly nervous Jeremy Hunt announced the government’s latest financial blitz. There have been hints of a new activist bent on taxes (see, for example, the lifetime pensions arrangement), but constant and deliberate leakages have successfully undermined the usual budget noise.
The conscious sustainability of the budget bore the stamp of a prime minister who has worked in recent months to banish any excitement from British politics. As Hunt doggedly hammered through his four E’s — on education, employment, enterprise and everywhere else — Conservative and Labor MPs sat in mutual muted disgust.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of the budget was the open looting of Sir Keir Starmer’s political laboratory. The headline announcements of 30 hours of free childcare for one- and two-year-olds, a three-month extension of the £2,500 energy price guarantee and action on pre-paid meters are all key Labor priorities. Overall, the budget is perhaps the clearest evidence that fiscal policy is being formulated on solid bipartisan terms.
But Hunt’s budget hacking didn’t stop at childcare and energy support. The chancellor has deepened the devolution consensus in British politics with recently announced “trailblazer” deals for the combined West Midlands and Greater Manchester authorities. With Starmer’s take-back bill promising to offer communities new powers over transport, jobs and housing, Hunt stood his ground: his party would not give up its intellectual leadership without a fight.
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The Tory tanks have also rolled onto Labour’s energy strategy turf. Starmer may have thought he was carving out a new ideological niche with GB Energy, a new patriotic, public green investment company. But in the Budget, Hunt increased the government’s net-zero bid, making Great British Nuclear, in an attempt to regain ground on energy security and flag-waving.
In the United States, bipartisanship is viewed from a strictly moral standpoint. Joe Biden’s presidency is openly seen as a vessel for more traditional, less adversarial politics — a necessary cleansing experience after the brutality of Trumpism. Biden’s essential point is that America at its best is an anti-political state that operates outside the bitter ebb and flow of the election cycle. Bipartisanship based on shared ideals is marketed as the engine of American progress. It’s good for the “soul” of the United States, Biden insists.
British politics, thankfully, has never bought into such flamboyant anti-political virtuosity. In public places, opposition MPs face the government, which allows them to look ministers in the eye as they ramble on. And our recent bipartisan tilt is no different. Political embezzlement of the budget was ultimately based on conditions of deep competition, self-interest.
Take the state child care application. For some time, Labor has insisted on holding the next election on the basis of radical reform of the sector in the early years. The strategy, spearheaded by Shadow Education Minister Bridget Phillipson, is a conscious attempt to mirror the success of the Australian Labor Party in this area. The party won Australia’s 2022 general election by promising to subsidize up to 90 percent of childcare costs.
Speaking to the centre-right think tank Onward earlier this month, Phillipson highlighted that in the 100 most marginal Conservative seats in England, around a quarter of the electorate consisted of families with at least one child under the age of one. The electoral calculation is hardly hidden.
Hunt’s claim about childcare was therefore partly intended to undermine Phillipson’s work. The new proposals will mean the government is significantly less likely to pay for childcare in 2024; the early years sector is no longer a political front on which Work destined to win.
At a deeper level, government policy theft is likely to problematize any escalation of Sir Keir’s rhetoric as the election approaches. In his budget reply, a terrible job for an opposition leader under any circumstances, Starmer was left to complain that the Conservatives had stolen his policies on energy cost guarantees, the energy windfall tax and prepayment meters. In the end, he was left with “welcoming” rather than offensive government policies.
Of course, there are some short-term benefits to working in this positioning. Sir Keir can praise his party’s ideological leadership and chastise the government for its unachievable “band-aid” approach. Still, the long-term challenges are clear. For now, Sir Keir has more than just to come up with popular, sensible politics — but a popular, sensible policy, immune to government pickpocketing.
That creates some tough incentives for Sir Keir as he seeks to refine and differentiate his party’s proposals ahead of 2021. To strengthen current positions on House of Lords reform and the Green Prosperity Plan (which Sunak is expected to stay away from). ), the Labor Party may now be forced to radicalize in other areas in order to stand out.
But the biggest problem for Labor now is that Rishi Sunak is increasingly perceived as a competent leader. A significant victory in Northern Irelandcoupled with potential cross-party success on the “small boats”, a dispute over pay and the budget, creates problems for Labour. So as Sir Keir huddles alongside the Prime Minister in the voting hall on Wednesday, backing the latter’s decision Northern Ireland Protocol Faced with impasse, the Labor leader may finally be forced to ask himself: who really benefits from Britain’s banal two-party system?