Budget Day today. And we have been promised austerity measures amidst the rumblings of doom by our new ConDem Coalition Government.
Specifically last night (via Radio 4) I learnt that Council Tax was going to be frozen. And this morning peeple who earn less than £10,000 are going to be taken out of the tax system altogether. Sometime.
I mention this because before Labour budgets, the Tories and LibDems useed to get very aerated that announcements, especially Budget measures, were being leaked to the press, rather than being heard by the House of Commons first. Tory MP's in particular would pronounce sonorously at the drop of a hat about this outrage to the "Mother of Parliaments". And now that ConDem bums are on seats, they comport themselves in exactly the same way. I had to smile.
The furious leaking, which is of course all about the management of expectations, was doubly ironic becuase the ConDems had used exactly this excuse to scupper an EU plan whereby Governments would have shared budget plans in advance of their public announcement. That seemed an entirely sensible bit of 'peer review' to me, which might have benefitted good decision-making around the Union. The Tories, who cannot agree to anything that comes out of the EU without major therapy, however, soon put a stop to the scheme.
Elsewhere, I thought there were more straws in the wind with the announcement yesterday that key NHS targets were being abandoned by the ConDems. No longer will patients have the right to be seen by a GP in 2 days, or in A&E within 4 hours.
So what's that all about. An infusion of localism, as the Tory Minister responsible was trying to make out? Or dropping key targets that will soon become undeliverable as the NHS is squeezed? I'll let you decide. Frankly, I don't know how LibDem MP's in particular can look themnselves in the mirror at the moment. As Andy Burnham correctly observed, it takes power away from patients, and hands it back to the administrators who think they know best.
This still feels like a period of "phoney war" which will begin to come to an end this afternoon with the Budget, and then will be exploded with the announcement of the Comprehensive Spending Review in the Autumn. That's when Tory aspirations to slash the work of the public sector will be realised, under the pretext of defecit reduction. Believe me, it will a very miserable period indeed.