Oh my Darling, I’ve hungered for your touch…

I’m not sure that I have ever understood the purpose of a pre-election budget. It is almost laughable how obvious this farce is; the BBC describe it as a “giving budget”, but I think that “giving bullshit” would be more apt. I haven’t read the budget from end to end, nor did I listen to Alistair Darling’s 58 minute dramatization of it in the Commons, so I am probably not the best person to respond to it or give my humble opinion, but it strikes me that most journalists won’t have read it from cover to cover and they get paid to lick red Labour bum or present a blistering attack on it, so I might as well have a go.

If you thought about a general election six or nine months back, it seemed fairly much agiven that the blue sun would rise once more and the Tories would storm back into number ten with excitement, enthusiasm and unstoppable force. But now they have managed to squander their massive 28% lead in the polls to just 5% and that is after the budget announcements! I’m not that educated when it comes to politics; I spent a year of my life in Government and Politics lessons, but whilst I learnt a great deal about my teacher’s life as a local councilor this didn’t seem to be that useful when it came to the actual exams. However, I did learn a little about voting habits and people believe that you will inherently follow your parents vote and whilst I’d like to think that we are more individual than that, I am aware that I would naturally follow my parents vote unless they did something bad or another party did something amazing. Plus, our voting system is incredibly biased for a third smaller party, so people find it increasingly disenchanting to vote for the Lib Dems because they know it won’t get them anywhere.

I live in an area that is traditionally very conservative; when Tony Blair first stood as an MP it was for Beaconsfield and the joke was that not even he could turn Beaconsfield in a Labour constituency. Since 1997, we have been looked after by someone who may well have spawned Harry Potter; I’m desperate to sweep Dominic Grieve’s fringe aside to look for the fabled scar. All joking aside, he’s not done a bad job; he is one of the few politicians that hadn’t been caught buying a duck house or getting his moat cleaned. According to Hansard and a handful of more dubious websites, our esteemed MP has attended and spoken more than the average MP, which has got to be a good thing. The wonderful powers of the internet also tell me that he has used three word alliterative phrases (such as “she sells seashells”) 1170 times in his speeches, which is well above average for an MP. Quite why we needed to know that fact is totally beyond me, as is how he managed to fit those sorts of phrases into quite so many speeches.

I’m not sure which way I lean politically because the parties all crowd onto the same soapbox to give their identi-spin and Darling’s budget was a typical example of this. For a Labour government to suggest selling our student loans to a private company is preposterous. Now, I understand that student loans cost the government £1.2 billion a year, which sounds like a hell of a lot, but when you consider that our national debt is about £697 billion, it suddenly pales into insignificance. However, they feel that this amount is too high and there are various ways of dealing with it. Firstly, they could raise the interest rates to a more normal level to ensure that the administration gets paid out of that. A slightly more underhand method to raise the interest would be to keep the payments the same, but extend the length of repayment. Most people wouldn’t notice this – I couldn’t tell you how much I’d paid off of mine without some calculations. So the third way would be to sell the company to a private owner. Now I might not have the best knowledge of politics, but I’m pretty sure that when the Tories did this, it was called privatization and it was absolutely ripped to shreds by Labour. I just don’t really understand how any of these ideas fit into a Labour constitution. After Tony Blair, the Labourites were excited about getting back to true Labour with Brown until they realized that he was just like Blair. Obviously as an ex student, this is an issue that concerns me.

I read an article in the Torygraph by a UCL professor who claimed that student loans were not lending people enough money and that the majority of people can’t live on their student loans. Lending more money to those who can’t afford it is such a poor idea; most people I know have come out of university with between £10,000 and £20,000 debt and this isn’t even looking at doctors, lawyers and vets. I wasn’t lucky enough to have a parent or someone to pay my tuition fees or bills for me, so I lived at home and worked part time whilst I was at university. This isn’t the typical university experience and I will never get that back, but I couldn’t justify it otherwise. I was also extremely lucky because I went to university before they started charging £3500 a year. On paper, I owe the student loans company just over ten grand, but in reality, I have some of that sat in a bank account, so my true debt would probably be around £5000. So I would consider that I have got away with the university experience very lightly, but I will still be paying it back over the next fifteen years. But if they chose to privatize the student loans company, we have no idea what they will do to it; interest rates could rise and the conditions that we are paying it back under could change drastically. I find this highly scary, but so little has been made about it in the news. Perhaps this is because it is a long term plan and with the upcoming election, there is a chance that it won’t come to fruition. This government seems to hate students; the majority of them went to some of the best universities in the country on a full grant and now they are pulling the rope ladder up behind them. Whatever way they look at it, by raising costs, adding top up fees and altering the student loans interest rates, you are making the possibility of going to university more and more elitist. Then they have the audacity to claim that they want everyone to go to university so they are freeing up more spaces and creating more weird and wacky courses. I’m not sure that you want everyone to go to university; otherwise it loses its gravitas. If 80% of the population are graduates, then it gives you no advantage whatsoever. Surely it would make more sense to offer work placements and practical training for those who want to develop themselves but not through academia. I don’t know that I’ve got the right solution, but I’m not being paid to make these decisions. These politicians have to question whether they would have made it to where they are today if they hadn’t gone to study at somewhere like Oxbridge for free. How many of them would have been put off by the albatross of £20,000 debt hanging around their neck?

Despite my most wishful thinking, I’m not a student any more, so I have to look at the other things in the budget that will also affect me. There is only one word I can use at this time. Cider. This calorific, sugary pint of golden goodness is what sees me through a long day. Well, I mean the thought of it sees me through the day; I’m not your stereotypical cider drinker who drinks in the day and idolizes Wurzel. For those that aren’t aware of Darling’s blunder, he has decided to raise tax on wine, beer and cigarettes by a mere 1 or 2 percent and cider by 10%. What have the cider drinkers ever done to him? Is he single handedly trying to obliterate the West Country? I thought that a Labour government was all about maintaining industry, yet they are suffocating one of the biggest things to come out of the West Country since cheddar cheese and Bill Bailey. This is such an affront to the orchard owners of the country. Why don’t we put tax on things that don’t come out of our own industry? Such as wine; we do not have a big wine industry, 98% of it is imported in. I can practically hear Darling coming back to me, saying “but it’s your health we are concerned about”. Ok, that’s very sweet of you to care, but if you are so concerned about my health, why don’t you raise the tax on cigarettes? We know just how damaging smoking is and yet the government is too scared of the massive corporations and their inherent money and power to do anything about smoking taxes. After all, let us not forget Bernie Eccleston’s influences over the Labour party when they attempted to ban tobacco advertising in the past. The other argument is that it’s relatively cheap and therefore encourages binge drinking. I would agree with that, but when I was at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday, it cost £5.40 to buy half a pint of Magners and a packet of crisps, which I don’t consider to be that cheap. What about other cheap drinks? Alcopops, super lagers like Tennants, Thunderbird and not forgetting Buckfast. I just think that cider is a bit of a strange thing to attack.

I could go on about all sorts of peculiarities in Darling’s budget. The old favourite, petrol prices, cropped up again. This time they claim they will only put the price up by 3 pence over a year. Do they think we haven’t noticed that it’s steadily climbed back up to about £1.16 a litre? What happened to people caring? A few years back we would all go on strike, refuse to buy petrol and blockade the lorry tankers. And now? Well, we barely notice the increase. Sure, I complain when I manage to get £40 into my roller-skate of a car, but I never do anything to change that. Continuing down the budget, we get to the big spend; road maintenance. A whopping £385 million to be spent on road maintenance, which is brilliant, isn’t it? But then you start to think about the sheer number of roads in the United Kingdom; there must be at least 40 in my village alone, so countrywide it must run into the tens of millions. There are 98 motorways and major dual carriageways and countless others. When you work it out, it will be a pitiful allocation per road and after a winter of heavy snow, many of our roads are already in dire need of repair. All the same, this spend is the biggest forecast by the Labour government and you have to wonder where they will find the money from. Perhaps it’s from the raise in petrol prices? Oh no, I see where it’s come from; that’ll be the £343 million slash to the judicial system. What a grand idea that is. They say that about 70% of British crime is petty and so it’s obviously the natural conclusion to close down over 20 magistrates courts across the country. I’m not quite sure they have connected the dots in the most logical order there. With fewer judges and courts, the pressure will be firmly placed onto judges to make quick decisions and pass people through the court conveyor belt as quickly as possible to ensure they get through the figures regardless of whether the individual concerned has been given a fair trial and the best possible treatment for them. Another monetary cut that they didn’t publicize in great detail was the £1.1 billion from Ed Balls’ department for children, schools and families, which I suspect would go down like the proverbial lead balloon.

Don’t get me wrong, there are good points to the budget as well; the lifting of stamp duty up to £250,000 for first time buyers and other things, but lets be honest, writing about things you agree with is a lot less satisfying than debating those you don’t. I’m sure that I heard every comic in the country cry with relief when they saw the news about cider.

Sorry Darling, sorry Brown; I don’t think you get my vote. Let’s see what the others have to offer. Word on the street is that Vince Cable is the man for our economy.

British Blogs


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Invisible Mikey
    Mar 26, 2010 @ 23:08:47

    I followed your invitation from the Forum. You can write. My only criticism is that your paragraphs are about 4x too long for blogging. Chop up those ideas into smaller bites. You’ll choke your readers!


    • sillybry
      Mar 27, 2010 @ 07:22:35

      This is very true!! I do get going and go off on wild tangents and don’t control it. I will make an effort to chop it up and make it more readable 🙂 Thank you x


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