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The first cut is the deepest

E’en from good words thyself refrain,
And tremblingly admit
There is no anodyne for pain
Except the shock of it.

It strikes me that there’s something of the ‘this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you’ about tomorrow’s Emergency Budget.

I mean, we knew it was pretty bad, but apparently we weren’t told just how bad it was.

The fiscal deficit that the UK economy has been left with following 13 years of Labour government, during which we had the banking crisis and the worst recession since the 1930s, is higher, according to the new Chancellor than that naughty Alastair Darling would have had us believe.

David Cameron and George Osborne were banging on about needing to stop-up the hole in our finances all the way through the election campaign. Now they’re in the hot seats, they’re making sure we know exactly whose fault it is. And that they are only doing all this for our own good.

This is their first, best opportunity to cut and cut hard. Those of us who remember the Thatcher excesses of the 1980s (scarily there are people in my office who don’t) know that the Tory comfort zone is to pare back public spending as far as – or further than – is humanly possible.

The British electorate, in its wisdom, has gifted Cameron and Osborne the chance to indulge their Tory inclinations for swingeing cuts, whilst blaming someone else for having to do it in the first place. And, – here’s the really clever bit – they can shift some of the inevitable flack onto the poor LibDem sap who’s Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Genius.

I’m probably guilty of judging by the cover and doing a rising politician a terrible disservice, but David Laws at least looked like he relished the thought of being the hatchet man. Poor old Danny Alexander looks like he’d be much happier striding be-kilted through the Cairngorms.

So, tomorrow’s announcement from the boy George is not likely to be a barrel of laughs. 20% VAT? – probably. Reduction in said VAT rate to 5% for housing RMI stuff? – unlikely. Continuing investment in projects and schemes that will help to nurture the flickering construction recovery? Also unlikely.

Yet any Chancellor ignores construction at his or her peril. As Bill Bolsover, the charismatic chairman of the Construction Products Association told last week’s Parliamentary reception audience, every pound invested in this industry generates £2.84p of economic activity across the economy. It is, he said “the kind of return that most private sector companies would die for”.

Still, on the bright side, apparently we can all expect our council taxes to be frozen this year. Whoop-de-doo.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Fiona Russell-Horne
Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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