You could tell it was coming.
When, about two days out from the Budget, English started trying to downplay expectations, you knew there wasn’t enough in it.
He had realised that people expect too much politically from National. He had wanted this Budget to be about one thing and one thing only – the surplus. But the pre-Budget leaking by Key had suggesting big things for kids and housing. They were expecting a masterful undercutting of Labour by guzzumping its key policies.
But English knew he didn’t have it. Extending Paid Parental Leave by 4 weeks doesn’t undercut Labour’s plan to extend it by 12. It just highlights how much more significant Labour’s plan is.
They needed to go to at least 20 weeks to make Labour’s 26 weeks look insignificant. That’s why English started trying to downplay expectations.
But he had other problems. The thing voters wanted most (far more than PPL, it turns out) was assistance to first home buyers. All English had was $3,500 less tax per new build house on imported building materials (can’t we even make nails and plasterboard here?). That’s about 3 weeks inflation in the Auckland housing market.
And then Key – who has always been proof that you don’t need to be good when you’re lucky and has had the luck to have had budgets defined for him in the past by recession, disaster, and deficit – pops up suggesting tax cuts are on the way. But English knows there’s no tax cuts in this budget apart from the joke of removing cheque duty and no room for meaningful tax cuts in the outyears.
And that’s before you get to the fudging of disguising spending as a loan and keeping ACC levies higher than needed to get back to surplus.
People expected a lot from this budget, both political panache and a policy uppercut to the Left. All it delivered was half assed policy that moves Labour’s policies into the middle of the Overton window and shady accounting that undercuts National’s reliable managers brand.
Oh and, with the increase in the operating allowance, they gave the opposition parties half a billion dollars each year in new spending that they can put into policies before National can accuse them of being spendthrift.
I bet English had more than one of those Old Dark Speights last night.