The most welcome element of Osborne's budget is the introduction of the Liberal Democrat policy to raise the personal tax allowance to £10,000 next year, taking the poorest earners out of income tax altogether. The rest, I'm afraid, fails to be sufficiently progressive to satiate the social liberal majority within the Liberal Democrat party membership.
This week, a survey of Lib Dem members showed that only a quarter support Osborne's Plan A for the economy while 47% believe that the government should ease public spending cuts and borrow more to boost the economy.
I submitted a Social Liberal Forum emergency motion for debate to the Lib Dem's Spring conference in Brighton two weeks ago, that called for, amongst other things, increased capital investment spending and a commitment to build 100,000 new houses each year. Despite conference delegates voting for this motion to be debated, the conference committee chose not to allow the motion for debate, because they argued, it couldn't be sufficiently debated in thirty minutes, and they couldn't allocate it any extra time from their agenda. These decisions denied the party of an opportunity to debate and create policy on the most pressing issue currently facing the country. As a party of government, now standing under a banner of 'Stronger Economy, Fairer Society', it is staggering and disappointing that an opportunity to underpin our rhetoric with strong policy wasn't seized.
As Vince Cable has been telling us, the government's economic strategy needs to change in order to get the banks lending and the builders building. But Osborne's budget contains just meagre increases in capital expenditure and falls far short of the scale that is required to get the economy growing again. With the economy flatlining, combined with negative net bank lending and weak manufacturing confidence, if Osborne thinks his Plan A for the economy is working, I for one would really hate to see it fail.
Indeed, the Office of Budget Responsibility has confirmed that it doesn't expect growth to return for several years, and without a significant public spending injection to kickstart the economy, even their depressing timeframe appears optimistic.