The £85bn of cuts and savings due to be announced in Tuesday’s emergency budget look set to drive a train through some of the Liberal Democrats “red line” policies as the coalition prepares to announce a rise in VAT and cuts in benefits that will hit some of the poorest in society.
Remember Nick Clegg unveiling his election campaign poster warning voters of a “Tory VAT bombshell”? Well now it will be a Lib Dem regressive tax bombshell as well.
The Observer reports how George Osborne plans to slash the £180 billion benefit budget. There’s likely to be a cut in child benefit for the wealthy, but that will be accompanied with wider cuts to benefits such as housing and sickness that will hit the poorest.
This is, as former chancellor Alistair Darling says today, “an old-fashioned Tory budget, with compliant Liberals providing the walk-on part for the new politics.” It was Margaret Thatcher who doubled VAT just after she came to office.
The “new politics” of Clegg will not only preside over benefit cuts, but will also take part in the cull of thousands of public sector jobs. Those who don’t lose their job face pay freezes, which will hit people earning as little as £18,000, and rises in pension payments.
We’re told that the Lib Dems are fully behind this, but as the BBC reported when Danny Alexander, chief secretary, unveiled the coalition’s £2bn cuts package earlier this week he was supported by a single Lib Dem. Are Paddy Ashdown, Ming Campbell and Charles Kennedy still in the country? It is difficult to tell. The silence is deafening.
That £2bn cuts package included the high profile £80m loan to the Sheffield Forgemasters. Clegg blamed it on Labour. David Miliband called it “gratuitous economic vandalism” that is “throwing away investment in Britain’s future”.
While the Lib Dem leadership is compliant and quiet, others in the party are starting to make a noise indicating that a crises point for the coalition has been reached far quicker than anyone predicted.
Lib Dem MP Bob Russell told The Mail on Sunday: “I want assurances that this Government will protect the poor and disadvantaged, in particular the 3.9 million children already below the poverty line. I supported the formation of the Coalition through gritted teeth but I have never voted for big cuts in welfare benefits and I am not going to start now.”
Russell told the paper he was concerned that, with the exception of Vince Cable, most of the Liberal Democrats in senior ministerial positions were Right-wingers and not from the traditional social-liberal wing of the party.
It has been less than two months since election but policy by policy the Lib Dem leadership is stepping away from the path of progressive politics. Later this year we’re told the Tories want to raise student tuition fees. Another Lib Dem red line that will no doubt turn green as well.
In the Independent on Sunday today Ed Miliband says Clegg has totally sold out and that he’s revealed himself to be a crypto-Tory. It’s hard to argue with that.
“This is exactly what happened in the 1980s under Mrs Thatcher, but this time you have a Liberal Democrat party and a Liberal Democrat leadership which is frankly in cahoots with this agenda. If the smoke signals are right about the kind of unfair Budget it is going to be… it will be a total betrayal of Liberal Democrat principles. They will have sold their own party down the river just for the sake of power, and I think people will feel very betrayed by that.”