This budget is covered in Greenwash — Green peer Natalie Bennett on the House of Lords Budget debate
Today the House of Lords held its Budget debate. I’ve no doubt for almost all of the rest of the country that now feels like ancient history, but there is an advantage of perspective achieved nine days after delivery. The dust has settled and the overall picture is far clearer.
Top line in terms of projects and plans has to be how disastrously pathetic the layer of greenwash that covers this budget is, the subject my fellow Green peer Jenny Jones majored on. (Although it didn’t take days of examination for that to be evident — phrases such as “missed opportunities” littered the snap analyses.)
In the House that was echoed from all political sides, including, most strikingly, Lord Lansley, a former Tory Health Secretary. He said “every fiscal event has to directed towards achieving our climate objectives”. He made it clear that this Budget does not.
Encouragingly, however, with five maiden speeches from new members of the House, we saw from our newest members show significant concern particularly about the climate emergency. As the Crossbench chair of Peers for the Planet, Baroness Helene Hayman, noted, it has good reason to hope for some new recruits.
As on environmental spending, so on underlying economic philosophy. There’s talk of change, and even some modest actual change, but we’re still stuck deep in the disastrous gaping pit of neoliberal philosophy that has buried so many households and communities in misery.
Sure, there was the modest increase in corporation tax, a reversal, finally, of encouragement of increasing parasitism of giant multinational companies, sucking wealth out of our communities and failing to contribute to the infrastructure and services that make those profits possible.
And of course the increase is not until 2023, we’ll still have the lowest corporation tax rate in the G7, and it is offset with “super-deduction” on some investments. Then, of course, we have to make sure the companies actually pay — which requires a government that wants to make that happen.
And while the government no longer talks the language of austerity, it delivers it by stealth. For many areas of government services this still feels like George Osborne’s time, even if the quality of promotional videos emerging from the Treasury has got a lot slicker.
I focused on the critical condition of local government. Having dealt with the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis, councils are being forced to raise council tax via the social care precept to fill the holes in their social care budgets.
The National Audit Office this week told us that at least 25 local councils are on the brink of bankruptcy, after a decade in which their central funding has dropped by on average a third — and much more in some of the poorest areas.
Local government provides the government services people see and live with every day — libraries, bin collections, bus services. This austerity will be seen, and suffered. That is the government’s choice and it is important the source of the destruction is highlighted.
There was progress of a kind on the opposition benches. Opening the debate for Labour Lord Eatwell attacked the disastrous impacts of austerity in a way that Labour was singularly failing to do back in 2015 when I was taking part in general election debates.
Some ideas, however, have yet to move on. The Labour to Tory defector Lord Balfe, while opposing payrises for our NHS workers — spoke of “living within our means”. The fallacy that a national budget is like a household one has clung on in the UK when it has long been regarded as a historic artifact in much of the rest of the world
Of the £485 billion being borrowed in the financial year 2020/2021, £450 billion will be owed to the Bank of England. It is not going to send around the repo man.
It is clear that the economic ideas of old have broken down. But the government has yet to absorb the many excellent new ones that are increasingly replacing them in the public discourse, from Doughnut Economics to Modern Monetary Theory.