By Tim Montgomerie
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Tory MPs are reportedly pleased with the Budget. George Osborne got a good reception at last night's meeting with the 1922 Committee. The Chancellor certainly gave them lots of doorstep-friendly policies. The 1p off beer. The freeze in petrol duty. The higher income tax threshold. The help for homebuyers. All of these policies are summarised in this excellent new Tory leaflet.
I feel a huge sense of disappointment, however. Let's not forget that the central mission of this Coalition was to eliminate the deficit by the end of this parliament. The graph below (prepared by my colleague Pete Hoskin) confirms that the Treasury is going to fall short by a huge £100 billion.
The Telegraph reports what this means for the national debt. In the year before the Coalition came to power it stood at £759.5 billion. By 2017/18 it will have soared to £1,637 billion. We are currently spending £46.5 billion servicing the national debt every year. By the middle of the next parliament that number will have soared to £71.3 billion. "That," writes James Kirkup, "is more than the current annual budgets of the Home Office and the Department for Education, which between them spend around £65 billion a year."
The fact is that we aren't cutting fast enough. We are certainly not cutting as fast as many other indebted developed countries. The result is that British business will be weighed down by a large ball and chain for many years to come. A radical Tory government would have adopted the Wisconsin model. It would have kept taxes down and cut public sector pay and welfare entitlements back to sustainable levels. There are many good political reasons why these cuts haven't been made and it's also true that the Chancellor may have gone a bit further if, for example, Lib Dems hadn't opposed a tighter welfare squeeze and the Prime Minister hadn't used the TV debates to guarantee better-off pensioners' incomes.
Overall, however, – despite some very good policies like the super-competitive corporation tax rate – it's hard to argue that this Government is addressing the country's fundamental economic challenge. My own view is that Cameron would actually be in a better electoral position if he was seen to lead a rescue administration with a credible plan. It's clearly not the Chancellor's view. What we have is a government that is mounting a half-hearted rescue plan and hopes that the world economy might come to Britain's aid and, in the meantime, some well-targeted, populist tax cuts of the kind announced yesterday will persuade voters that it's worth re-electing.
What is true is that Her Majesty's Opposition offers no hope. I wouldn't go as far as Max Hastings who tells Daily Mail readers that Balls and Brown did more damage to the UK economy than Hitler's Luftwaffe (!) but the Labour leader offered no solutions to Britain's economic difficulties in his all-soundbites response to yesterday's Budget. The latest YouGov poll puts Labour just 11% ahead. That's modest given the Coalition's failings. It's still very likely that a good Tory campaign can stop Ed Miliband winning. But no party has a plan to ensure Britain can win in what the PM calls the global race. The nation is simply carrying way too much debt into the most competitive of world economic climates.