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Spreadsheet Phil is devoid of all ideas

IT’S NOT difficult to see why nobody would want Chancellor Philip Hammond to organise their Guy Fawkes fireworks display. It would be an evening of damp squibs and even damper quips. 

Wealthy villagers would be enjoying a rather fine barbecue, free of charge, while the disappointed crowd would be told to buy the high-priced rancid burgers and be grateful.

Today was the budget speech that wasn’t. Instead, the Chancellor of the Exchequer repeated some of the lowlights of his Autumn Statement last November — there weren’t any highlights — and congratulated himself on a job well done. 

The lowest rate of economic growth in the G7 of advanced capitalist countries — no problem! The lowest level of industrial investment in the G7 — we’re used to it! By far the worst labour productivity performance in the G7 — old news, nothing to see, move along!

Local councils on the verge of bankruptcy, the NHS in permanent crisis, a severe shortage of affordable housing, stagnant real wages, thousands of our poorest citizens about to be rolled over in the roll-out of universal credit — no big deal!

The Chancellor had nothing new to offer. Even the scare stories were the same. Everything, he warned, would be far, far worse under a Labour government headed by Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister and John McDonnell as his own successor.

Predictably, the current Chancellor preened himself on some small upward revisions in economic growth forecasts for this year until 2020, but other figures appear to have fallen off the edge of “Spreadsheet Phil’s” paperwork.

According to the Office for Budget Responsibility’s (OBR) economic and fiscal outlook, published today, new estimates include slight downward revisions for the two years following. Still, who needs bad news in these cheering times, eh!

Also buried in the OBR report are the latest estimates for Britain’s Brexit divorce bill. These fall midway between the figures produced by the Treasury last December at the end of phase one of the EU exit negotiations.

After Britain’s departure in March 2019, we will contribute £16.4 billion net to EU budgets up to the end of 2020 and then hand over an additional £20.7bn to meet commitments and liabilities that have been apportioned to Britain by the EU Commission and meekly accepted by feeble Tory government negotiators.

That makes a total of £37.1bn to pay over the next 45 years or so. Such a sum would build quite a few council houses.

The consolation is that the EU is not likely to be around that long to collect its extortion money. Long before 2064 or so, either populist parties of the far right will have destroyed it or parties of the left will have replaced it with a voluntary confederation of democratic, self-government nations acting together in a spirit of social justice and solidarity.

The only real glimmer of hope in the House of Commons today was the fighting speech by Shadow Chancellor McDonnell.

He was right to attack Hammond’s “astounding complacency” and demand an end to austerity. He spoke up for public sector workers, the low-paid, the poor and the disabled.

He highlighted the failure of private-sector capitalists and successive governments to fund vital investment in our infrastructure, research and development, advanced technology and public services.

Most importantly, he renewed the next Labour government’s commitment to reverse Tory and LibDem tax cuts for the big corporations and the super-rich. Roll on the day!


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