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Want a Real Budget for the Next Generation? Tax Carbon, Not Carbonated Drinks

18/03/2016 11:54 GMT | Updated 19/03/2017 09:12 GMT

In many ways, this week's Budget was more of what we've come to expect from our Conservative government. Corporate tax was slashed to 17 per cent, while further cuts were imposed on the most vulnerable. This amounts to business as usual in Tory Britain.

In the middle of his speech, though, Osborne hit a new and unusual note. There was a moment when he became oddly sentimental.

With an uncharacteristic gesture towards the notion of conscience, he said: "I am not prepared to look back at my time here in this Parliament, doing this job, and say to my children's generation: I'm sorry. We knew there was a problem... but we ducked the difficult decisions and we did nothing".

Stirring stuff. Very stately. But do you remember what he was talking about when he said this? It must have been climate change, surely?

No such luck. He was talking about, err... fizzy drinks. An odd thing to single out for taxation in a so-called Budget for the next generation.

The biggest threat to the next generation is climate breakdown. In fact, it's one of the biggest threats we have right now. February was frighteningly hot. It was 1.35C hotter than average, marking an all-time record, and dragging us incredibly close to the 1.5C threshold outlined in the Paris agreement.

So how did Osborne confront this unprecedented climate emergency? He probably taxed the polluters, right?

Wrong again. He gave big oil a massive tax break.

His Budget halved the supplementary charge for oil and gas companies - a tax on profits, essentially - from 20 per cent to just 10 per cent, while abolishing petroleum revenue tax altogether. And he backdated it to January while he was at it. Osborne called this "act[ing] for the long term".

This is the opposite of acting for the long term. This is short term economics at its most dangerous. We need to get off fossil fuels as quickly as possible, but Osborne's economic policy props up the fossil fuel industries with tax breaks, while dismantling subsidies for renewable energy.

Now, don't get me wrong. I think a tax on sugary drinks is fine. If it works well, it could help tackle the problem we have with childhood obesity in the UK, and all of its associated health risks. I can get behind that.

But it's a weird priority. Does Osborne seriously believe that in thirty years' time he could have had George Jr. Jr. bouncing on his knee, asking him "Why didn't you take action Grandpa? The science was clear for decades. The warning signs were there. Why didn't you do something about fizzy drinks?"

Our Chancellor told us that this was a Budget for the next generation. If he meant it, he'd tax carbon, not carbonated drinks.