WATCH: Christine Jardine’s response to the budget

On Monday night, Christine Jardine gave the Lib Dem response to the Budget in the House of Commons. Traditionally the leader does it, but it makes sense to have Vince going round the broadcast media rather than sitting in the chamber for hours on end waiting to be called.

Christine talked about the pain caused by Universal Credit, and mentioned the unfairness suffered by the WASPI women. You can watch her whole speech here and read it below:

Now we have heard it from the Chancellor and the Prime Minister: austerity is over. It is a nice thought, but it will be down to our constituents and those outwith this place to decide whether they have achieved it. Every week, I meet people whose lives have been and are still being damaged by austerity. Today, like us, they have been told exactly what this Government mean when they tell us that it is over. Right now, people up and down the country will be working out the impact of this Budget on their income, their food bills and whether it means that they have reached the light at the end of the dark tunnel that began with the financial crash more than a decade ago in 2008.

I suspect that they will be as disappointed as we are to be promised growth at less than 2% for five years. With Brexit weighing down the economy and the big issues that have not been tackled, today’s Budget does not fulfil even the minimum definition of ending austerity as laid out by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. That would cost £19 billion a year on top of the Government’s NHS commitment. Instead of that, we got more for potholes than for schools, nothing for women born in ​the 1950s and facing pension inequality, and a pathetic, inadequate sticking plaster for universal credit. So much more should, and could, be possible but for Brexit. Just think of the £500 million that the Chancellor added on today to the £3 billion that has previously been allocated for no-deal preparations—what could that have done for our public services?

What we needed today was vision, renewal and a way to reboot not just our beleaguered economy, but our damaged society. Instead, we got that sticking plaster. By March, if some of the Chancellor’s Brexiteer buddies have their way, this plan may have to be torn up and a fresh fag packet found to write a new one on.

This autumn, we are undoubtedly seeing short-term improvements in the economic picture, but there are still worrying trends that the Government have failed to tackle. Their independent advisory body, the Office for Budget Responsibility, has warned that the whole period of the Brexit negotiations is so disastrous and clouded in uncertainty that it is unable to assess the impact. What a thought that is. We are faced with so much ambiguity and the threat of chaos looms so large that the body whose one role is to assess the economy is unable to do so.

While the Government suddenly seem to have discovered £13 billion from somewhere, we all know that finding some money down the back of the sofa may well help with Christmas, but it will not pay the bills for the coming year. What we do not need now is a quick fix for the short term—a slapdash cover-up job. Today, the country needed a Chancellor who would lay out how we would go about repairing the severe damage that austerity has done, who would fix our broken tax system, and most importantly of all, who would find a way to restore a social contract that many struggling at the lower end of the income scale feel has been thrown on the fire, along with their ambitions for their and their family’s future. The very people the Prime Minister promised to support in her first statement on the steps of Downing Street are still waiting for the fulfilment of that commitment.

We need a people’s Budget that lays out a progressive way ahead for the 21st century; a Budget that protects the economy by allowing a people’s vote on the final deal with the EU and thereby allowing people to opt for an exit from Brexit; a Budget that fixes our broken tax system to boost investment and ensure the wealthiest individuals and big businesses pay their fair share; a Budget that invests this money in communities by reversing school cuts, putting more police on the streets and properly funding—yes, properly funding—universal credit. To ensure an end to austerity, we would need that cash injection of £19 billion and universal credit would need £3 billion, instead of £1 billion over five years.

In 1909, Lloyd George laid the foundations of what became the welfare state in his Budget and wrote the first page of the modern social contract with the introduction of employment insurance. A century later and universal credit, the descendant of that policy, is at the heart of the change we needed from this Budget. It is almost unique among Government policies: there is near universal support for the original principle of simplifying benefits and helping people get back into work, but the condemnation of how it has been implemented is almost as widespread.​

Universal credit is to be rolled out in my constituency for the first time next month, and we are braced for its impact. Experience elsewhere tells us to expect people waiting weeks longer than expected for payments, problems with rent arrears because of late payments, people facing increased stress and mental health issues, and so much more. It could have been avoided had the Government paused the roll-out to fix the problems and had the Chancellor announced that he was re-investing the £3 billion taken out of the system. Reinvesting that money would allow people to earn more before their benefits are reduced, which the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has said would make a difference. Instead, we have the £1 billion over five years.

Elsewhere our public services need investment, and this should come from reforming our tax system so that it fairly taxes wealth and not just income. If the Chancellor had grasped that nettle today, he could have begun the process of healing the country and really ending austerity, but once again he has simply put off the day when we all pay the price of that broken social contract. The way things are now are not how they have to be. The Liberal Democrats demand better.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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12 Comments

  • With all due respect to Mrs Jardine, if the Leader of the Labour Party, the Leader of the SNP, and the Leader of the Green Party can all reply to the Government’s Budget statement, why can’t the Leader of the Liberal Democrats ?

    He seems remarkably shy at the moment, especially given he is an economist and a former Cabinet Minister in an economic department.

  • Peter Martin 31st Oct '18 - 12:18pm

    “While the Government suddenly seem to have discovered £13 billion from somewhere, we all know that finding some money down the back of the sofa may well help with Christmas, but it will not pay the bills for the coming year. ”

    It is tempting to taunt the Tories with these kinds of comments, and they would certainly do the same themselves if they were in opposition, but fundamentally it’s a silly thing to say.

    There quite a lot of smoke and mirrors involved to try to keep the truth from us, mainly involving open market operations involving the BoE, but ££ are simply a creation of Govt. The Govt hasn’t got the the £13 billion from anywhere but ‘thin air’. If Govt didn’t create ££ when it spent then all our bank accounts and wallets would be empty of ££.

    So the £13 billion is really no different from any other spending. They’ll spend them into the economy, some will be saved along the way and some will eventually end up back with the taxman to be shredded. The difference, ie what is saved, is the deficit.

    Should the Govt have just conjured up the £13 billion? Possibly not if we are worried about inflation, but definitely yes, and maybe a bit more besides, if we are worried about a sluggish economy.

  • @David Raw

    Absolutely the right media strategy for Vince. With the Speaker calling people from alternate sides – it is a long time before the Speaker will call the Lib Dem and indeed well after the ending of live programmes (even if they were to go back to the chamber)and for the news programmes. Hansard shows for example that Christine Jardine was called at 7.26pm for example – waiting 4 hours in the Commons would not have been a good use of Vince’s time – well after the evening news bulletins and especially as the budget statement was some 2.5 hours later than it normally is.

    As it was Vince got some good coverage on the BBC’s live budget programme and on the six o’clock news etc. – the EXACT opposite of being shy.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 31st Oct '18 - 1:55pm

    David is wrong on this, Caroline Lucas is mp, not leader of the Greens and if she spoke it was not thus, as the head of the party, which is shared by two, yes, non, mps!

    The party should challenge the wretched speaker on being rarely called. A pmqs question every few weeks, is an outrage,and so is this here. The fact that ours is the fourth party in the Commons, should mean we get a question each week, but forth in order, outrageous otherwise. After the SNP were called, ie what should be after, Corbyn, so it should have been Sir Vince, who, I agree with David, should speak for the party then.

  • nvelope2003 31st Oct '18 - 6:07pm

    It is time we abolished the post of Leader of the Opposition created in 1937 which may have been fine when there were only two parties but is wrong when there are several as other parties may not want the leader of the biggest group to speak for them. Each party leader should have the right to be called to speak on issues and be paid for the extra responsibilities of leading a party in Parliament.

  • nvelope2003 31st Oct '18 - 6:13pm

    While we are about it why not abolish the position of Speaker and have a panel of speakers who preside over the House of Commons on a rota. No one can sit in that chair all the time. It is an absurdity. The whole place needs a shake up and the method of voting should be modernised.

  • Malcolm Todd 31st Oct '18 - 7:22pm

    “While we are about it why not abolish the position of Speaker and have a panel of speakers who preside over the House of Commons on a rota.”
    In effect, that’s the position already: there are three deputy Speakers and they all preside at one time or another.

  • nigel hunter 31st Oct '18 - 8:05pm

    Would it not be better to have the 3 on rota ,say one per week? so far as the speakers are concerned we mostly see Bercow and occasionally others.

  • Michael 1 makes a reasonable point, and Lorenzo is correct by a few weeks, certainly so far as England is concerned. In Scotland the Leader of the Scotish Greens, Patrick Harvie sits in Holyrood leading a group of six as the fourth party. The Lib Dems have five plus a pumpkin.

  • nvelope2003 1st Nov '18 - 9:24am

    Malcolm Todd: I am aware of the deputy speakers but as Nigel Hunter says it is mostly Bercow in that Chair and that is wrong.

    We now have pension equality as men no longer have to wait another five years.

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