Like a good chilli, a Budget is always better a few days later once everything has time to marinate. Or does it give you food poisoning? I forget… Just call me Nigella.

The big positive about Jeremy Hunt’s first Budget was it was reassuringly dull and lacking in any kind of theatrics, pizzazz, or rabbits out of hats. After all the “am I on drugs?” political pyrotechnics and carnage delivered by Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng, that was some mercy. Back to boring has never looked so appealing.

There were some decent measures, including extending the energy price guarantee, but most important and welcome was the expansion of childcare. Of course, there are many conditionals around how successful this policy aspiration will end up being – and providers are deeply worried about their basic survival. Let’s hope that this flagship policy will be more successful than the much venerated “Levelling Up”. But for many feminist and women’s campaign groups who have been trying valiantly to put childcare on the political map over recent years and struggling, this is good news.

Traditionally, (mainly male) ministers, advisers and civil servants saw road, rail, manufacturing, and nuclear as critical infrastructure – nurseries, not so much. Not since Tessa Jowell and other Labour women spearheaded the case for SureStart children’s centres has childcare been this centre stage and that’s a good thing (although SureStart was dismantled under the Coalition years).

This damascene conversion is in large part because it’s now seen through the prism of the desperate quest for economic growth rather than gender equality or early years development, but a win’s a win. The fact that both Labour and the Tories will make their childcare offer central to the next general election is worth celebrating.

Any Labour response to a Tory budget since 2010 follows a pretty solid rhythm. Welcome a few things and hammer the Chancellor on low growth and falling living standards which has been par for the course. Then pick out a few attack lines which fit into the “for the many, not the few – for the rich, not the rest” framework.

Trussonics and the unfunded slashing of the top rate of tax provided an embarrassment of riches. Many are surprised that a very cautious Hunt has given Labour an easy attack line on the pensions tax giveaway which will benefit the very richest. Time will tell whether it will magically result in vast numbers of retired GPs and consultants returning to the NHS. But we know that financial advisers will breathe a sigh of relief as they will be able to advise their non-NHS very wealthy clients on some nifty tax planning. So, there’s a neat dividing line for Labour who have already said they would reverse it.

But what this Budget also shows us that even though Labour can bang out the old tried and tested lines about managed decline (rather too generous in my view – very little feels particularly “managed” in today’s broken Britain), they can only enjoy the ease doing that for another year.

If – as is likely – Labour does win the next general, they will inherit all the things that they have been able to gleefully taunt the Government about – low growth, poor productivity, economic inactivity, regional inequality, shonky infrastructure, strikes and all the rest. The obvious question is “well what would Labour do differently?”

Don’t hold your breath on that one as it makes no sense for Labour to issue any detailed cost and spend plans for a good while yet. They need to see how the economy pans out over the next period. We also know that apart from mad culture war issues, both parties will be closer than in recent times on big ticket economic issues partly because at this stage of the calculation, Labour does not want to scare the horses especially in Blue Wall areas where they hope to pick up soft Tory votes.

But there have been some chunky announcements. Rachel Reeves has set out plans for a genuinely ambitious green investment programme worth £28bn and has just announced plans for a £8bn pot of funding for US-style, public-private investment scheme target for clean energy schemes in deprived areas. Plus we know about plans to abolish VAT status on private schools and scrap Nom Doms (how Sunak keeps missing this trick is astonishing). But they will keep their cards close to their chest and for obvious reasons.

The earlier they announce, the more time for their opponents to tear them down. But they will come under increasing pressure. And while they won’t want to raise income tax, there’s no question that they will have to look at increasing as many taxes elsewhere from the upper middle-classes and the richest from property, shares, assets, inheritance and other wealth. How they pitch that and balance it with “aspiration” will be tricky – especially when they have made huge progress with winning round the business community.

Those close to Starmer give assurances that the five missions he set out recently will be fleshed out in a calm, strategic manner, but there’s no doubt they are extremely resistant to revealing anything really useful until they have to.

In the meantime, Labour can carry on enjoying tormenting the Tories about everything that’s going wrong, but they do need to remember that this fiscal fiasco and economic burden will probably be all theirs very soon and the tables will be turned.

By admin