A budget from another planet

By Jill Segger
March 23, 2011

Those who have learned their lines as the government intends might think they have been dealt a good, or at least unavoidable budget yesterday. However, many of us are profoundly sceptical of the twin tropes which Messrs Cameron and Osborne have been repeating endlessly in the hope that they will somehow become the backdrop of our thinking.

“It's all Labour's fault” and “we're all in this together”. These are the falsities upon which today's divisive and blinkered budget was based.

The fact that the thinnest of tissue papers could not have been inserted between New Labour's supine accommodation of the excesses and idiocies of the City and that of the party whose Old Etonian Chancellor (and heir to a baronetcy) delivered his budget today, should not be forgotten.

To remind ourselves of this is not to indulge in some Dave Spart-style class warrior rhetoric, but rather to keep in focus the realities of incomprehension and self-interest which are the hallmarks of this government's social and economic policy.

In 1845, Benjamin Disraeli wrote of “Two nations, between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets. The rich and the poor”.

The experiences of citizens who are at the sharp end of insecure employment and low pay will not feel themselves to be on the same planet as the Chancellor who, in his eagerness to set entrepreneurs free, is ready to dispense with so much regulation. “Britain is open for business” may sound fine - until you realise that it means legislation that will make firing workers easier and family-sustaining flexible working harder. Or that 'yes' being the default response to planning applications in the name of enterprise will not make for sustainable or sustaining communities.

One person's 'red tape' is very likely to be another's protection against exploitation and financial disaster. You might think that the banking crisis would have driven that home.

The headline eye-catchers such as the increase in the personal tax allowance (worth around £45 per annum for basic rate tax payers) and the one penny reduction in fuel costs (try living on a low income in a rural area, where the bus services are being axed, George) belong in a different zone to the daily experiences of people struggling with rising unemployment, increases in VAT and National Insurance contributions, wage freezes and rising inflation.

Unless the governors can find the humility and integrity to really listen to the unfamiliar and often disturbing experiences of the governed, instead of just claiming that they are listening, we will continue to be a divided, unequal society which still has far too much in common with that of Disraeli's time.

I doubt if George Osborne has much time for the insight of the 17th century entrepreneur (and Quaker), William Penn, but he would do well to mark and consider his words: “gross impiety it is that a nation's pride should be maintained in the face of its poor.”


© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen

Ekklesia's 2011 Budget coverage and comment can be accessed at: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/Budget2011

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