Just before the Budget the opinion polls showed the huge gap between Labour and the Conservatives holding steady. Will that change after the Chancellor’s well presented, content full package on Wednesday?
Jeremy Hunt and Rishi Sunak are exuding calm after the chaos of the Johnson and Truss shambles. This approach was aided by the news that we will not be going into a technical recession and inflation is expected to be down to 3% by December.
However the Chancellor spoke on a day of widespread strikes by public sector workers from doctors and teachers to university lecturers and train drivers. The public have shown no general hostility to these protests which might indicate a fundamental change in mood not seen since the rejection of Ted Heath in the February 1974 General Election. Hunt didn’t mention the strikes nor a pay strategy for the coming financial year
There was also no mention of the fact that average taxpayers will be £500 worse off and higher earners £1000 lighter in their pockets as a result of the freezing of tax allowance bands. Nor was there any mention of the fact that whatever short term growth may be achieved for the forthcoming General Election, the mid term prospects are poor. That is because of Brexit. We voted to be poorer.
We needed some evidence that Levelling Up has not collapsed after the delaying of HS2 to Manchester, the decision of Astra Zeneca to invest in Ireland not Alderley Park and the failure of Britishvolt.
Well, there were significant measures to help the North and Midlands. The Trailblazer Deals for Greater Manchester and the West Midlands had Andy Burnham purring. He, and Andy Street, will now get one pot of cash which they will distribute. Amongst other things, Burnham intends to launch a full scale T level training programme whereby colleges will work closely with business to deliver staff with the qualifications firms actually need. It is a sign that Whitehall is at last devolving real power.
There are to be Investment Zones in Merseyside and Greater Manchester. Hunt said they were inspired by what Michael Heseltine had done in Liverpool in the eighties. It was interesting that he named and praised the man who brought Margaret Thatcher down. The zones will be collaborations between universities and local councils. I understand Manchester University will be strongly advocating one for the Oxford Road corridor, although mayor Burnham will have competing demands from other districts.
Manchester University was referenced by the Chancellor when he announced a million pound prize for the most ground-breaking research into AI. It will be called the Manchester prize in recognition that the university was the location for the first stored programme computer in 1949.
Blackburn and Rossendale are just two areas to benefit from big grants under the Levelling UP Fund.
With its large opinion poll lead caution continues to be the word from Shadow Chancellor Rachael Reeves as discussed in my last blog.
The government may have shot their fox over the big announcement on child benefit and there were no promises to unfreeze income tax allowances.
The only commitment the Opposition has made is to fight the tax relief for people with a million pound pension pots. At last Labour is showing a bit of red leg. We’ll see how it all plays out with the voters.