Mary’s recent column post in the Northern Echo can be found below:
As I waited on Wednesday to hear what little of the Chancellor’s Budget that hadn’t already been spun to the papers in a great show of smoke and mirrors, I felt very nervous.
Nervous because over recent weeks increasing numbers of my constituents have contacted me with growing anxiety as the price on their gas meters and at their supermarket tills kept rising while their household budgets stayed stagnant or began shrinking.
At the despatch box, Rishi Sunak tried to seamlessly flip from small state Thatcherite to a high tax Chancellor, but the economic news he delivered was a flop.
Beneath the polished PR, the bluff and the somewhat baffling rhetoric of a “new age of optimism” lay a presentation of the UK economy, of people’s living standards, earnings and taxes which there was little to be gleeful about.
Since Wednesday afternoon’s performance, the smoke has dispersed to reveal the glum reality that the UK economy is forecast to only grow by an average of 1.5 per cent in the coming years. Compare this to the decade under the last Labour Government, even including the global financial crisis, when growth averaged 2.3 per cent a year. Even grimmer was a report from the Chancellor’s own Office for Budget Responsibility, which stated that by 2026 real wages will still not have returned to levels witnessed under Labour over a decade ago.
Unable to grow the economy and having presided over a lost decade, the Conservatives have seemingly decided that the only way to repair the black holes in public service budgets – holes that they themselves have created – is to raise National Insurance contributions and council tax on the very same hard-working families who are bearing the brunt of a cost-of-living crisis.
The lack of concrete proposals to alleviate the growing pressure on households beyond a small rise in the minimum wage that will be consumed by inflation and tax rises was jaw-dropping. The absence of any comprehensive definition of what Levelling Up means or transformative strategy to achieve it, nearly two years after an election promising it, is simply staggering.
Perhaps most damning of all, with only days to go before the UK hosts the vitally important global summit to cut carbon emissions, COP26, the Chancellor did not just fail to match Labour’s commitment to invest £28bn a year in green industries, he also failed to seize the moment and prove to the globe that Britain is serious about combatting carbon emissions.
Instead, he cut tax on domestic flights – incentivising pollution, while ignoring major transformative investment in cleaner greener rail travel in the North of England, such as the Leamside line and East Coast Mainline.
On achieving Levelling Up and net-zero emissions, the Conservatives appear rudderless, their marquee policy agendas remain hollow slogans. The Government is proving that its rhetoric cannot be taken seriously, locally or on the world stage.
This was a Budget that flattered to deceive. This was a missed opportunity to set our economy on a new course and to recognise the immediate pressures people in Durham are facing this winter. We deserve better, but we will never get it under a Chancellor who gives with one hand and takes so much more with the other.