The March 2007 budget was one of those that leaves us feeling, ‘have we missed something?’
The whole country is worrying about climate change and the serious and potentially devastating threat it poses to our economy and whole way of life. In particular people are for the first time talking about the role of aviation in this change to our economy. And in this Budget there is not even a mention!
In fact as far as a 'green budget' goes, the Chancellor has only given a small slap on the wrist to the most destructive and unnecessary domestic vehicles. This flies deliberately in the face of a communal response to climate change and has actually lowered other taxes on some cars. He has encouraged richer owners of expensive symbolic cars such as the Prius – useful but elite - well out of the reach of most people anyway, and not encouraged ownership and fashion in much smaller cars which would have really helped and made a difference.
He has also spectacularly avoided doing something about aviation which for the very first time the public and the press would have heartily accepted and warmed to, and frankly expected from him.
Instead this is a budget which appears purely self- and career-focused, a bid from the Chancellor for No. 10, thus fiddling whilst the world literally burns around him. But he makes it clear – having THAT JOB is the most important thing, more important even than ensuring his child’s future and leaving the potential for a decent economy – should his child want to follow in his own footsteps.
People have also woken up to the fact that our children are some of the most unhappy and dysfunctional in the industrialised world, according to a recent UN report. This leaves another generation growing up with the additional burden of having to work longer and harder to support increasing numbers of older people. Gordon has in fact penalised the young generation of people just starting out at work, just at a time when we really need them to be inspired.
Perhaps one of the saddest things is that just we are starting to realise that planning for a strong local community means local facilities, local supply chains and local shops, the Chancellor has actually produced a Budget for big business, lowering corporation tax for larger players, and putting it up for smaller local business - surely the last thing we need if we are to cut down on the need for transport without harming our economy or our way of life more than is needed?
Gordon’s big headline was a reduction in basic rate tax of 2 per cent. As with many things, this at first looks like tax cuts. But in fact National Insurance has gone up without that money being ringfenced for health benefits. This is not what the country wants. The public wants services that work and a sense of community.
The incentive to free trade and big business - which is the basis of this budget - encourages the City to allow the Chancellor to move in to his dream home. And whilst Gordon eyes up the door to Number 10, we discover that the ‘green homes’ he wants the rest of us to live in are also not a realistic proposition. Only a tiny proportion of homes, and only those built by big firms, would qualify for the promised reductions in stamp duty.
The Budget is a missed opportunity. And, given the current knowledge about our situation, is a tragedy and a travesty. An intelligent man like Gordon Brown has a duty to provide a visionary and responsible and effective and positive Budget.
The economics of so-called 'free trade' are in many senses largely responsible for the mess we find ourselves in, and so it falls to those of us active in economics to take the lead in getting us out of it.
Gordon Brown knows that it is his duty to do this, based on what he has said before, but he fails, like his party, to understand how this all works and how he can help us get out of it.
Have we heard a ‘green’ Budget? ‘Green’ does not mean business as usual, green means preventing the social and environmental consequences of current economics practice but sound sensible economics practice and vision.
Miriam Kennet is a Director of the Green Economics Institute.
This article first appeared in the Ecologist March 2007