Lots of people seem to like knowing what it’s like being an MP, so let me tell you what Budget Day is like before I tell you what I think about the Budget itself. It’s a total nightmare!
‘m sure in the good old days MP’s sat in the chamber, roared and screamed and debated, went for a nice long lunch while all the researchers and party staff figured out what had just happened, then popped off to give a quote to the press. Not anymore!
The problem is that on days like this the Commons it totally jam packed (the chamber seats 466 but there are 650 MPs) the so is the press and public galleries. And because of the occasion the noise, heckling, and waves of approval or disapproval are really intense.
So picture it. You’re squished into a bench of people for three hours, listening to an hour-long speech crammed with facts and figures, and you only actually get to hear bits of it because the waves of noise are so great and I’m too tall to slouch and put my ear next to the speaker in the seat. It’s like speaking to your accountant on a mobile phone with really bad reception…and then you have to go straight out of the chamber after the speech and speak live on TV and radio. These days you can’t wait, digest, and consider on a day like this.
The first time I did it (yesterday was my third) was completely terrifying. But now I have borrowed a trick that every schoolgirl and boy will be very familiar with…if it’s a difficult lesson, sit next to someone who’s better at it than you are!
Every MP has a specialism, something they have a passion and instinct for. I’ve noticed that some are just brilliant at Budgets, numbers, and finance-related issues. Rachel Reeves, Chris Leslie MP, and Yvette Cooper MP are all amazing on Budget Day and I’ve benefited from their quick-witted calculations many times. Yesterday I hit the jackpot again by plonking myself next to Alison McGovern MP. For her, Budget Day is like Christmas, so not only loves it she is incredible at reading between the lines and comparing every statistic with previous announcements. It’s like watching sport on TV but being in the commentary box rather than at home!
So thanks to being a bit more experienced and having an expert on hand, the smoke-and-mirrors of yesterday’s budget soon cleared. Here’s what leaped out at me (with thanks to Ali too!):
The most shocking thing – after discovering not a penny was given to solve our social care catastrophe or to schools except a minor boost to post-16 maths – was the shocking truth finally being revealed that £3bn is being spend preparing for Brexit and £2.8bn extra is being spent on the NHS. Remember the promise? ‘Bring back money from Europe to spend on our NHS’? Well that lie is now finally exposed because we could be spending those billions on the NHS but we’re not, we’re spending it on studies, bureaucrats, transport costs (David Davis wan’t private jets we now know) and other Brexit preparation that could be better spent on our country’s big challenges like rising crime, falling productivity, and failing public services.
The ‘big announcement’ of the Budget was abolishing stamp duty for house sales up to £300,000. We live in an area where that will affect a lot of people so I’m keen to know what you think, but for me this misses the fundamental problem with housing which is the fact we need to build more houses.
In fact, buried on page 128 of the Office of Budget Responsibility report which is given to MP’s after the Budget, it says the following: “The main gainers from the policy are people who already own a property, not the first time buyers themselves” and goes on to predict that the policy will actually drive up property values. Bear in mind this is from an official government report released as part of the Budget, it’s not a Labour document or a campaign group.
And then there’s another shocking set of numbers. Future economic growth is cut by a whopping 25% from the official government figures of only 6 months ago!
Another set of eye-catching announcements came, like announcing a fund to help people in the first week of switching to Universal Credit (but nothing for the five weeks after that). But when you look at the budget numbers it turns out government have allocated more money to holding down the price of beer than they have to making sure families switching to Universal Credit can eat throughout their transition.
On the TV last night I pointed out that in 18 months we’ve gone from the fastest growing economy in the G7 and beating the Eurozone average to being the slowest. 18 months after government released their productivity plan, productivity has fallen faster than at any time since records began. Less than a year since they introduced the Apprenticeship Levy, apprenticeship starts have fallen by 59%. Inward investment by the private sector has dropped to a desperate 0.2%.
I was accused of talking down our economy. I pointed out that the people running our country right now are actually doing down our economy and that is far, far worse. If we are to get out of the hole we’re in as a country we can’t pretend things are good when they are not, we have to know our starting point.
The scale of the challenges facing our country are vast. Sometimes I am daunted by them and sometimes I wish I had the super-human abilities that some of the great politicians in history have had – we need those skills more than ever before. But I do promise you this: I’m giving this everything I have. Where I have any talent I’m putting it into action, and where I need to get better I’m doing what I can to learn, develop, and be a more effective MP next week than I was this week. That’s all I’ve got to offer, but having sat through the Budget yesterday I know our community and country needs more from our politics than at any time in my lifetime.
So…tell me what you thought of the Budget, I’m keen to hear, Peter