Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publishing, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.
Well, that wasn’t exactly a knicker-gripping Budget, was it?
In a week’s time, if you ask people if they can remember one measure announced in this Budget, the abolition of stamp duty for first-time buyers of properties under £300,000 is probably all that they will remember. There were lots of itty-bitty minor measures and reform announced, but there was little coherence to the Budget. Radical and bold it was not. The best thing you can say about it is that it hasn’t unravelled. That’s a pretty low bar for success.
The best budgets are ones that follow a vision or narrative. Nigel Lawson did that, and disagree with him though I did, so did Gordon Brown. So did George Osborne to an extent. I’m afraid Philip Hammond’s main vision was: ‘how can I avoid a budget gaffe and how can I best keep my job?’.
There was very little, if anything, for the so-called ‘Just About Managings’. That was supposed to be the theme of this Government’s domestic agenda, but so far as I can recall there wasn’t even a mention of them in the Budget speech. You can argue that keeping alcohol duties static would help the JAMS, but if this was the intention, then why not say it?
Still, at least the Chancellor recoiled from cutting the VAT threshold for small businesses from £83,000 to £20,000. This would have been a political disaster of epic proportions, and been a far worse error than his national insurance mistake last year proved to be. Thankfully, he stepped back from the brink.
Hammond was right to make housing the centrepiece of the budget. It’s just a pity that the measures he announced will do very little to address the real issue – which is lack of supply. He was looking through the wrong end of the housing telescope. Encouraging first-time buyers is all very well, and many will be very encouraged by the cut in stamp duty. But he was undermined in the Red Book by the OBR, which rightly pointed out that the cut will inevitably lead to a rise in house prices, thus not benefiting the first-time buyer, but benefiting the vendor.
What he needed to do was face up to the big housebuilders, who are constantly trying to rig the housing market in their favour. What he also needed to do was to encourage small and medium sized builders, many of whom have got out of housebuilding in the last few years, partly because the planning system mitigates against them.
What we need is a Housing Minister who will trample over all the vested interests and do for housing what Michael Heseltine did with development corporations in the 1980s. I’m impressed by Alok Sharma, but he is relatively new to the job and will take time to gain political ‘weight’. The Government should send a big signal, and promote the Housing Minister to the rank of attending cabinet. This issue, more than most, could determine the outcome in a lot of marginal seats at the next election.
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Every morning five or six emails pop into my inbox, each competing for my attention and telling me what’s happening in the political word. They include Matt Chorley’s Times Red Box email and Paul Waugh’s from the Huffington Post. The latest one is from Politico and is written by Jack Blanchard, and is well worth subscribing to. It has a lot more detail about the upcoming events of the day, and which politicians are going to appear on the various political programmes. It’s become indispensable to my day and I highly recommend it.
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One of the failures of those who support Brexit is to expose the lies of those who continue to bang the Remain drum. We keep being told that EU nationals are all going home. As I write this, Sky’s Adam Boulton is interviewing Theresa Villers, and has asked her how we can build more houses if all the EU builders are leaving the country.
Just for the record, a week ago the ONS announced that there are now 2.38 million EU nationals working in the UK, a rise of 112,000 on a year ago. Don’t believe me? Click on this link.
Over the last year, we’ve also constantly been told that doctors and nurses from the EU are flooding out of the NHS, and going back to their home nations. It’s become a narrative which has been accepted all across the media. My LBC colleague, James O’Brien, speaks of little else. And yet it’s total bollocks. It is a lie. The latest figures show that there are actually more EU doctors in the NHS a year on from the referendum than there were on June 23 2016. Just for the record, here are the figures:
- Doctors in the NHS June 2016 – 9,695
- Doctors in the NHS June 2017 – 10,136
- Registrars June 2016 – 3,190
- Registrars June 2017 – 3,215
- Trainee doctors June 2016 – 779
- Trainee doctors June 2017 – 950
- Midwives June 2016 – 1,220
- Midwives June 2017 – 1,247
- Ambulance staff June 2016 – 250
- Ambulance staff June 2017 – 386
- Scientific, therapeutic, technical staff June 2016 – 6,112
- Scientific, therapeutic, technical staff June 2016 – 6,957
- Nurses and health visitors June 2016 – 20,907
- Nurses and health visitors June 2016 – 20,618
So, yes a very slight decline of 1.38 per cent in the number of nurses, but not overall statistically very significant. If you add all those figures up you find…
- Total number of EU nationals in the NHS in June 2016 – 42,153
- Total number of EU nationals in the NHS in June 2017 – 43,509
So, a 3.2 per cent rise over a year. And in case you think I have made these figures up, they were quoted in The Spectator and come from NHS Digitial.
Similarly, people like Michael White tweet that the trade gap has widened since we voted to leave the EU. A simple look at ONS figures shows this is not true.
- 2015 Q4- 33, 681 billion.
- 2016 Q1 – 31,169 billion.
- 2016 Q2 – 28,440 billion.
- 2016 Q3 – 33,034 billion.
- 2016 Q4 – 22,812 billion.
- 2017 Q1 – 22,256 billion.
- 2017 Q2 – 23,182 billion.
We keep being told that it’s the Brexiteers who are guilty of telling ‘porkies’ with the red bus being cited constantly, but those who put the public case for Brexit need to be fully aware of the lies that are being told on the other side, and be prepared to expose them whenever they are able to.