Letter from Westminster

Tuesday this week saw me attending cabinet for the first time since I was appointed as Liberal Democrat chief whip and the government deputy chief whip.

I would be lying if I said that I did not feel some excitement as I walked up Downing Street and saw one of the most famous front doors in the world open in front of me.

I have of course been in Downing Street in the past but always delivering a petition or supporting a lobby of the last government. This time it was different.

The excitement was tempered slightly by questions in my mind about what I was going to hear seated in the Cabinet Room. We all knew when we entered government that our economy was in a mess but in recent weeks the full extent of that mess has become apparent.

The last months of the previous government saw a spending spree as contracts were signed and commit­ments were made based on assump­tions about savings that were never identified. This was going to be the day when we got the plain unvarnished truth.

It is not an easy truth to hear. The government this year will have to borrow £149 billion – as a share of the total output of our economy (Gross Domestic Product as it is called) that is over 10 per cent.

That is simply unsustainable. If we fail to tackle it now then we risk seeing our economy going the way of others within the European Union, our national credit rating would be reduced and the cost of that borrowing would go up.

That is why I say that the mea­sures in this budget are necessary. They are not the measures that I would have wanted my government to take but they are they measures that we need to take.

There is not much good news in this budget for anyone but significant protections have been built in to the budget to make the spreading of the pain as fair as possible. At a time like this you would expect the level of child poverty to rise. As a result of the extra money put in to child tax credits this should not happen.

Other measures which will help the poorest in our community in­clude the restoration of the link between the state pension and aver­age earnings and the raising of the threshold at which tax is payable by £1,000 to £7,600.

Locally for the first time in my time as an MP I heard a Chancellor acknowledge that the extra cost of petrol and diesel is a real problem for communities like ours and that they will work on a scheme to use a lower rate of duty to address some of that. Contrast that with the years of denial and Treasury ministers who compared the cost of petrol in the isles to the price of beer in the south-east of England.

As I left 10 Downing Street on Tuesday morning I was in sombre mood. It was quite an introduction to cabinet. I would hope to be there for other budgets in years to come. I hope that none will ever have to be as difficult as this one.

Alistair Carmichael MP


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