But what of the headline decisions?
- A new mortgage subsidy scheme
- 1p off beer duty
- A halt to petrol duty
- Corporation tax down, national insurance payments abolished for small companies
I should be overjoyed by these, and ready to vote Tory. I'm 37 and can't scrape together the cash for a deposit. On the Tory campaigners' database, I'm a prime candidate for membership of the Home Owning Democracy, that mass of people persuaded to switch to Conservatism in the 1980s. All they have to do is use taxpayers' money to lend me a deposit: after that, I can afford the monthly mortgage payments. It's a simple idea really: mortgage rates are historically low, but lots of people don't earn enough to save enough for the large deposits required to get a mortgage.
So why am I not jumping for joy and polishing my I Heart Maggie badge? Well, firstly I don't think there's an essential link between property ownership and full citizenship. It smacks of the 19th-century's requirement that only citizens owning property could vote, on the basis that everybody else had no 'stake' in the country. Secondly, we're in the midst of an obscene housing crisis. People on housing benefit are being forced out of their homes if they have a spare bedroom, even though there aren't nearly enough smaller dwellings. Pouring money into the housing market without building enough houses won't help people: it will increase house prices. Great for the Tory-voting Mail readers who see house prices rises as Progress, but it massively screws up the entire economy for home-owners and home-seekers alike. Remember the 90s: all those TV ads encouraging you to remortgage your house ('release the equity') to take advantage of the rising market to buy holidays and boob jobs and jacuzzis? It will all flood back, and this time, it's subsidised by the state. Not only that: they'll be helping people out up to the tune of £600,000 and include 2nd homes, so if you fancy getting yourself a holiday cottage at the expense of the poor, you're in luck – George Osborne will spend my taxes on your luxury lifestyle!
Am I more likely to buy a house under the new scheme? I doubt it. I don't like paying my landlord too much money for a cold, noisy and unmaintained flat, but a mortgage is little more than renting from a bank. I'll buy a house one day… that day being when my beloved parents fall down the stairs. That is, if they haven't blown the loot on cigars and gold-plated crucifixes and all the other things they like. As for the population which doesn't have an inheritance in sight: you won't just be no better off after this budget in housing terms, you'll be far worse off, because the state-subsidised boom will put even the humblest abode way out of reach again – and there won't be any social housing for you either.
So let's be clear: this is redistribution from the poor to the rich. Worse than that, it's not even aid for homebuyers: it's aid for the property developers who've crammed us into smaller, more expensive, badly-built hutches for generations. Coincidentally enough, they fund the Tory party.
Next up: the reduction in beer duty. Clearly this is just meant to get a cheery headline in the tabloids. Who could object to 'blokes' getting a slightly cheaper pint? Except of course, that we're meant to be concerned about binge drinking, and that it's economically meaningless. It won't even reduce beer prices much: like most tax cuts, it will inflate profit margins and shareholder prices rather than depress prices.
Petrol duty? Do I really have to remind everybody that burning fossil fuels is literally killing us and everything else on the planet? That the UK has the worst air quality in Europe? That this small island is crammed with overpowered, underoccupied vehicles spewing out poison? But this is a sop to White Van Man who doesn't give a damn about killing his own kids, let alone the bunny rabbits. And of course once again it's economically meaningless: compared with the profit margins of the oil producers and petrol refiners, a penny here or there makes no difference at all. Personally I'd be taxing engines ruthlessly, banning large, heavy and inefficient vehicles unless individuals have particular requirements, and generally making life very uncomfortable for people who choose selfishness over mass transit. (Though of course I'd be spending a hell of a lot more on public transport infrastructure and nationalising the lot).
Finally, the reductions in corporation taxes and NI employers' payments. These are the things which pay for schools, road, healthcare and everything else the state provides. Cutting corporation tax is meant to attract companies to set up here rather than elsewhere. It is, of course, nonsense. Ireland has a mega-low corporation tax. Companies appeared, then disappeared when some other barrel-scraper offered a further 1% off. When the crash came, the state didn't have enough money to maintain services or a decent way of life for its citizens because it pursued corporations without regard for the future or the people. It's a race to the bottom. The same goes for the NI cut. Will they improve the economy? Of course not: these cuts don't mean there's more money sloshing around to be spent on beer and cars and cinema tickets and corporate investment and higher wages and more jobs. British companies are notorious for exploiting their workforces. That money will be shovelled into management bonuses and shareholder dividends. It will go offshore where it can't be taxed and won't be recirculated into the UK economy. If it was properly taxed and fed into the Treasury, the government would get a boost, by spending it on new railway lines and hiring more tax inspectors etc…: that would get it flowing round the economy as salaries are spent on decking and nappies and dreamcatchers or whatever. That's what we need: more money in the hands of ordinary people who need things, not fattened executives' tax-evading yacht funds.
But what do I know?