John Redwood’s budget speech

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I am a director of a couple of companies. I have declared my interests in the Register of Members’ Interests.

This is really the Damian McBride memorial Budget. It is a Budget of the spinners, by the spinners, for the spinners. It is a Budget with all the black arts around it. It is a Budget that wants people to believe that it will all be fine in a couple of years’ time. It is a Budget built around numbers that are entirely fantasyland economics. It is a Budget which pretends that there will be massive growth in two years’ time, and that that growth will miracle away the enormous deficit and the huge debts that will be the Government’s only legacy.
This is a Government who, just a few months ago, were in denial that there was even a recession on here in the United Kingdom. This is a Government who would not admit six months ago that they would preside over the worst collapse in any major western economy, as measured by the public finance figures. This is a Government who a year ago, at the time of the then Budget, said that there would be a little drop-off in the growth rate, but that Britain would come sailing through because they were married to Prudence and had abolished boom and bust.

The Government are not married to Prudence, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Indeed, the Prime Minister—the former Chancellor—divorced her many years ago. Now they are holding a drink and drugs party on the poor lady’s grave, inviting everyone to come along and spend as much borrowed money as possible. I do not think that the current Chancellor has ever met the lady Prudence. It is quite obvious from his figures and his representations today that he does not have a clue about the fact that it is necessary to balance the books at some point. He has no clue about how to balance the books, and, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition so powerfully observed, it will take another team of Ministers to deal with the awful job of cleaning up the mess.

Let us look first at the economic forecasts. I am grateful that at last, after it had become obvious to everyone else in the country, the Government have accepted that there will be a very serious downturn this year. After all the lying, weaving and ducking outside this House and the funny figures given inside it, we now discover that even the Government admit that there is going to be the most severe recession since the war—not only the deepest, but also the longest. We now have a Government who admit that there is not about to be an upturn any time soon. According to the new forecast, the magic Ides of July will come and go without us seeing the green shoots, let alone the recovery.

As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition memorably said, the Government are forecasting a trampoline recovery some time later, with most of the benefits of this improbable gymnastics delayed until after the general election, because they do not want the electorate to be able to compare what actually happens with the ridiculous forecasts they are now coming up with.

Why is it that after 12 years of this Labour Government, who said they were married to Prudence and had learned the lessons of their trip to the International Monetary Fund and of previous economic crashes, we now see this Government in complete disarray, presiding over not just a big increase in debt, not just a whopping increase in debt, not just a colossal increase in debt, but a bigger increase in debt than all previous Governments from time immemorial over a millennium in this country had managed to borrow together? If someone had made that up for a BBC drama, I think that I would have been one of the first people moaning again that the BBC had overdone it and that the plot was preposterous. Yet that is what today’s figures tell us; they tell us that the Government are seriously suggesting that they should, and they can, and they will, borrow more money in a couple of years than all previous Governments added together over many centuries, including all the war debt that we still have, inherited from those earlier tragic and difficult times when different rules and priorities clearly applied on a cross-party basis.

How did the Government get into such a dreadful quagmire? There are three main reasons. First, they foolishly, rashly and needlessly committed this country’s public accounts to two extremely large banks—banks which, as my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench have again memorably said, were too big to fail and too big to bail. The Government were quite wrong to force those banks, at the fateful weekend in question, into trying to find capital that quickly, and they were quite wrong to say that the taxpayer would stand behind those banks and buy all those new shares at too high a share price, which they forced upon the poor reluctant taxpayer. There were many ways of sorting out and standing behind those banks without putting all that taxpayer cash on the line, and the last thing we needed to do in the parlous financial condition we already found ourselves in was put the taxpayer fully, squarely and completely behind the £3 trillion of liabilities on those two massive bank balance sheets, with all the consequences that followed.

I have not had a chance to read the detailed figures, which were not released to Members of Parliament until immediately after the Chancellor sat down, and of course, the Chancellor did not give us the actual cash figures for his current view of how much those banks are going to lose us. However, he did say in his statement that he now recognises that there will be material losses for the taxpayer. We have heard the figures in the press; as always, we could have learned most of the Budget in advance by listening to the media over the weekend preceding it, and in the days before we in this House are graced with some kind of statement—and then if we really want to know what is going on, we have to go away and read the documents, because they contain at least some of the bad figures that the Government wish to conceal.

We have gathered, however, that the debate is between the Chancellor and the IMF. We learn that the Chancellor thinks that the Government are going to lose £60 billion on the banks. I will be delighted if they only lose £60 billion on the banks, as I have always forecast that they will lose a lot more than that—but let us just think about this: that is £60 billion of needless losses subsidising rich bankers and foolish banks. Why do a Labour Government want to do that? Do they not realise that that is £1,000 for every man, woman and child in the country? What could my constituents do with £1,000 per head extra this year? Would it not have been better to have given them the money so they could have sorted their own lives out and bought a few more things to create some demand, rather than to tip that £60 billion down the drain by making the taxpayer stand behind the banks and pay for those losses?

The IMF, however, says it thinks the losses will be £200 billion, and I fear that it is nearer the mark. We understand that some of the very expensive spin doctors and Treasury officials employed at our expense have thought it a productive use of their time to try to get the IMF to calculate its figures again—in other words, “If there’s a problem, let’s try to spin our way out of it.” I urge the IMF not to be too lenient with these Ministers and this Treasury, because I fear the losses are, as the IMF has said, going to be all too large. It shows the Government’s priorities that when they nationalise the banks they will not accept that there is any possibility of loss at all, when they have the autumn statement they leave all the figures on the banks out of the borrowing because the borrowing looks too awful with the banking figures included, and when they finally get to the Budget they realise that none of the commentators and City experts are going to buy the idea that there will be no losses on those banks, so they come up with a figure rather smaller than those of the serious commentators and hope to get away with it, and when no less a body than the IMF rumbles them, they send the spin doctors out to deal with it and try to get the figures massaged in the right direction.
That is the first reason why we are so colossally in debt and so hugely at risk.

Never before have a British Government been stupid enough to nationalise banks that in aggregate are bigger than the national income. Never before has a group of Ministers blundered into such a colossal and risky financial commitment as this group of Ministers has. Given the questions I have asked over the months about this, I feel that when they took the decision they had no idea how big the thing they were taking on was, and they certainly had no idea that only £1 in every £7 on the RBS £2 trillion balance sheet was a loan to a British person or British company. Like them, I want to make sure that British companies and British people do not suffer because of the awful credit crunch. Of course I wish to see the creditors protected, and of course I wish to see lending resume at sensible levels in this country, but only £1 in every £7 on the RBS balance sheet was doing any of those things, yet this Government had to blunder into backing the whole balance sheet, and who knows how much they will lose.

How much do the Government reckon they will lose on the £500 billion casino bank within RBS that they have bought? What action have they taken to protect the taxpayer interest? Have they instructed those bankers to close down the dangerous positions? Have they asked them to calculate the losses and take the ones that could get bigger? Have they agreed with them that they will net out a lot of the positions so we can begin to see what we have got and start to reduce the total risk for the taxpayer? I do not think they have done any of these things. I do not think they have got a clue; I do not think that they care. They thought it was a great idea to nationalise a bank. They thought that would give them control over the economy. They will learn the hard way that they do not control the banks—the banks now control them.

The second reason why we are so deeply in debt—and, even worse, a reason why we will get increasingly into debt under this Government—is the very violent boom-bust cycle that they have unleashed upon our poor economy. This is a boom-bust cycle that was made particularly violent in Britain by wrong policy here in Britain. This is the Government that, when it was becoming obvious to many outside critics that a huge credit explosion was under way, instead of calming the flames by taking some of the material off the bonfire, decided to stoke it some more. This is the Government who, instead of saying to the private sector, “You’re overdoing the off-balance-sheet borrowing, boys and girls,” went out and said, “Do more off-balance-sheet borrowing. We’ll show you how to do it. We’re going to finance most of our public projects on the never-never on an off-balance-sheet basis so that people don’t realise that we’re building up extra public debt, don’t know that we have broken all our own rules, and don’t know that we are doing this on the never-never in the hope that some future Conservative Government are better at running the public books and are able to pay the interest and the debts off.”

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I agree with everything my right hon. Friend says about the appalling state of private finance initiatives, but unfortunately, I disagree with him in one small area: this debt is not on the never-never, as it will have to be repaid. Indeed, it will have to be repaid during the second half of the next decade and beyond, and will be a drag on any recovery that this economy could possibly hope for in that period.

Mr. Redwood: I was using “never-never” in the common sense—I meant as a way of financing oneself—but we all know that, as my hon. Friend rightly says in correcting me, the never-never is the ever-ever; it is ever-ever with us, and we will have to repay it. These Ministers thought that they could get the glory for the spending and leave the bills with the British taxpayers. These Ministers thought that they could do the borrowing round the corner and leave it off the balance sheet, and that would stimulate the economy. These Ministers thought that if they are having a drink and drugs party on Prudence’s grave, why not let the public sector lead the way and buy more of the drinks, while the private sector is encouraged to do exactly the same thing.
Far from being the surprised moral Government who did not quite understand how things were out of control, and who can now condemn bankers for getting it wrong, this was the Government who were leading the never-never society, were leading the charge and were leading the off-balance-sheet movement, and who were urging the financial markets of Britain to come up with ever cleverer and, unfortunately, dearer ways of feeding the public monster that they were creating—this huge debt machine in which they were revelling—so that they could have more press releases and more initiatives, and try to give people the impression that they were investing. If only they had been investing, it might have been a good idea—but they were not investing. They were squandering and wasting, and they were not getting the efficiencies, improvements and extra services that we would have liked. There needed to be some extra spending—Governments always have to spend extra on services to improve them—but they were blowing the money in all sorts of ways, not just on nationalising banks, but in ways that I shall examine briefly in the third part of my comments, which will deal with public spending.

The Government made the cycle worse by the lack of spending discipline and by the over-borrowing in the public sector, and by rigging the inflation target at the end of 2003—a little before the 2005 election. They saw that the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee was likely to have to put interest rates up, because it could see that inflation was perhaps going to get out of control and credit was a bit too lively. So what did the then Chancellor do? He changed the target to one that was performing much more modestly than the retail prices index, and I am sure that he knew, because he is a clever man who studies these things, that by changing that target, interest rates would have to be kept lower for longer. That fateful decision—that decision to encourage the borrowing binge in the private sector by keeping rates too low for too long—stoked up the private sector half of the violent cycle.

By 2007, when it was becoming clear even to the Government that they had overdone it, they allowed or encouraged the monetary authorities to put the brakes on. We lurched from careering up the motorway at 140 miles an hour to trying to do a complete stop—an emergency brake—by putting interest rates up and withdrawing funds from the market. They overdid it, so we lurched from excessive boom to excessive bust, and we, the passengers in the car, were hurled towards the windscreen by the effort to bring the vehicle to a grinding halt. It was a disgraceful piece of bad driving for which the Government will not be forgiven for a very long time by the electorate, who can see that British actions—actions by the authorities here in the United Kingdom—made the cycle more violent and worse. China, India and Germany did not have this sort of cycle, but we had it here, because our authorities were uniquely incompetent and uniquely unable to see how they were overdoing it in both directions.

The third reason why we are so massively in debt is that Labour has blown it with its public sector spending programmes. Contrary to the constant rumours from the Labour party, none of us came into politics to fire teachers, nurses or doctors; Labour Members should accept that all of us, from all parties, come into politics because we want better schools, better hospitals, better public services and better standards. If they were to examine the record of past Governments, they would see that every Government, be it Labour, Liberal or Conservative, have every year, or nearly every year, increased expenditure on those vital front-line services and the people who deliver them.

Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): The Chancellor should be thanking the good people of St. Albans, who pay the most into his coffers but get the least back in terms of being able to deliver front-line services. My area rattles around at the bottom of the league table in what we get back, so we struggle. I am sure that the good people of St. Albans will wonder how on earth they are going to manage with the new cuts that the Government will be putting in place, given that they have been struggling in the good times. All the things that I heard in the Budget to do with the stamp duty holiday for homes worth up to £175,000 do not help St. Albans. I heard nothing about small business rate relief for my local small businesses; in St. Albans that relief does not even kick in. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that the Chancellor seems to have abandoned places such as St. Albans, merely seeing them as cash cows: he just spends the money.

Mr. Redwood: For St. Albans read Wokingham; my hon. Friend has spoken powerfully for me, for herself and for many of our right hon. and hon. Friends. Our constituents, by and large, pay the bills, go to work, work hard, are prudent and save—they do all the things that, we hope, Governments of all persuasions wish them to do—but we are the ones who get socked with the tax bills, and we do not get any of the extra money if the Government are thinking of money for better schools or hospitals. It is very noticeable how unfair the system has been. The Conservative Government to whom I belonged always gave more to areas with greater needs—and of course that is fair, and a common-sense approach—but the situation has now become extreme. Our areas have needs too, and, as my hon. Friend rightly says, the distribution system is very unfair.

I wish to draw attention to the two economies out there: the huge divide in modern Britain is between those of us who work in the public sector and those who work in the private sector. The big divide is between those who are trying to run small and medium-sized entrepreneurial businesses and their staff, and those who are in the large bureaucracies of the public sector—those in the quangos, the councils and the Whitehall Departments. There is a monumental sense of injustice, because when we talk here about tough choices we are talking about whether we increase public spending at 2 per cent. or 1 per cent. in real terms—above the inflation level—or about whether we are going to have three nice extra things or one nice extra thing in our budgets, but what people in private sector companies are talking about during this awful recession is whether they close one factory or two factories out of their three or four, and whether they get rid of 20 per cent. of the work force today or whether they may have to fire 25 per cent. of the work force in two months’ time because demand is so low. They also talk about how they can halve their stock levels because they cannot afford to maintain them and they cannot get the borrowing for the stock, and they discuss what impact that has on all the people who would like to carry on in their jobs making things.
I do not think that these Ministers have a clue how tough it is out there for private sector businesses. I do not think that they have any idea what it is like for businesses of just four or five people, where those running the business are personal friends with the individuals whom they are employing, but at some point one they are going to have to say to one or two of their employees, “Either you go, or we all go.” That is the tough choice that such people are facing; that is the reality. They are the people who are facing this huge rash of extra bureaucracy, extra regulation and changed tax rules that makes their lives even more difficult at a time when they need to concentrate on sorting out their business, when they need a break from their banks and when they need a break in terms of improved demand and improved economic prospects.

It is this huge divide in Britain that is so unfair and that is causing so much anger, and it is one of the main reasons why the governing party is so low in the opinion polls—about which it must be extremely worried. When listening to the Chancellor and hearing about his many schemes for people who, sadly, lose their jobs, one wondered whether there was at last some forethought about the colleagues of his whose jobs are going to be destroyed by his very bad economic management, and who may well be feeling that pain in a year. They will then discover that it is very brutal out there and things are very different when one loses the protection of the indexed pension, the decent salary, the expenses and all the rest of it.

The public expect us to do everything we can to try to reduce the length, depth and severity of the recession, and to make the tax changes or produce the schemes that might make a difference to those who are struggling to keep going potentially good businesses that have been very badly damaged by the current climate. But they also expect us, above all now, to treat their money seriously and to spend it wisely. They do not believe for one minute that all this extra money that has been tipped in, so much of it borrowed, is buying them a better school, a better hospital, safer streets or stronger border controls. They think that a lot of it is wasted.

I called this Budget the Damian McBride memorial Budget, but I now wish to say something nice about the Government. I know that I will upset my right hon. and hon. Friends by saying so, but I think that the Government did a very good thing in sacking Mr. McBride. I think that the Labour party would agree. However, I have some advice for the Government. They still have dozens of McBrides left in their organisation—spin doctors spinning in favour of their bosses and the Government—although I hope that none is doing all the things that Mr. McBride was doing, at least not any more.

The Government do not need those spin doctors—indeed, I fear that I am doing the Government a good turn by giving them this advice. One reason why they are getting such a dreadful press at the moment is that those spin doctors—and their bosses—are turning on each other, fighting for power and the ear of the current incumbent, and positioning themselves for the leadership race. If the Government got rid of more of their spin doctors, I could say nicer things about them. It would be a good saving, because many are supernumerary. They are letting the Labour party and the Government down, so some savings could be made there.
A much bigger saving in cash terms could be made by cancelling the ID card scheme and the national computer database. It is hugely expensive and will be deeply intrusive, without making our country any safer. Burglars will not take their ID cards to the scene of the crime and leave them on the mat when they leave. We already have identity documents that people have to show when they arrive at our borders; they are called passports. Instead of ID cards, we should have a border authority that wants to inspect passports properly and make sensible decisions about those visiting our shores. These people do not come across in rowboats; they are not sneaking into the country. They come in through the front door—through Gatwick, Heathrow and Dover. Let us do the job at the port of entry with the proper documents. We do not need to make everyone else live in fear that they will be caught without their ID card when digging at the bottom of the garden. If the Government do not scrap the ID computer scheme, they are not serious about civil liberties, and they are certainly not serious about saving money. It is a no-brainer, because it would be a popular public spending cut.

Unelected regional government is widely loathed and hated in England. The Government can no longer say that it is hated only in parts of England with Conservative local government administrations, because they decided to test the popularity of regional government in what they thought was the Labour heartland of the north-east. At the time, it had mainly Labour MPs and mainly Labour councils—more recently elected than some of the MPs—but the Government lost that vote not by 55 to 45 or 60 to 40 but by four to one against. If they want to repeat the experiment in my part of the world, we can make it five to one or six to one against.
Regional government is widely hated. It is a huge cost burden and involves unnecessary administration, bureaucracy and regulation. If something needs spending on or regulating, it should be done nationally by the Departments or locally by the county or unitary authority. We do not need the middle men and women—let us sweep them away. Again, I fear that that would make the Government popular, but I can recommend it because I know that there is no chance of their listening to the people of Britain. The Government will go back to the north-east, where they still hope to win some seats in the general election, and they will have to explain why they rode roughshod over the freely expressed and sensible views of the people there.
The people have rumbled the Government. We do not need European government, national government, regional government, county government, district government and parish government. That is six layers of government and too many people bossing us around, too many people on expense accounts and fancy salaries and with public sector company cars. Get rid of some of them. The obvious place to start is the regional level, and it should go.

Let me mention something that I have not mentioned for a very long time in this House—my hon. Friends will be very disappointed—and that is the subject of the European Union. Tony Blair, in the good days, thought that we had so much money that he would like generously to give some of Baroness Thatcher’s rebate back to our partners. The Government always tell us that they have a lot of influence in Brussels and that they get on well with our partners. I think that the Prime Minister should go back there next week and say that his predecessor made a huge mistake.
When Tony Blair generously decided to give all that extra money to the rest of the EU, he thought that Britain was strong, prosperous and well run. The present Prime Minister now realises that it was not, it is nearly bankrupt and borrowing too much money. We cannot afford to borrow extra billions of pounds—and it will need to be borrowed—to give to other countries, some of which are in a stronger financial position than we are. It is a little challenge for the Prime Minister after the triumph of saving the world: to go back to Brussels, say that his predecessor wrongly and stupidly gave away the good deal that Baroness Thatcher had negotiated with great skill, and tell them that the British people now need that money, because it will all be on our overdraft as the public accounts are out of control.

I come to the public sector rich list. I pay tribute to the Taxpayers Alliance for the work that it has done in getting to the truth about some of the waste and grotesque excess that has substituted for proper public spending under this Government. Up and down the country, there are hundreds and thousands of senior officials in posts in quangos, in Whitehall and in local councils who are earning mega salaries. Those salaries do not respond to market pressures. In the cold and hard private sector world of which I have reminded the Government, people on high salaries in companies under pressure are not only losing their bonus, but will have to take a pay cut—if they are lucky, because otherwise they will lose their job. When they get another job, if they manage to do so, it is at a much lower rate of pay than prevailed a year or two ago.

I am all in favour of people being highly paid if they earn it and the taxpayer does not have to pay the bill. Good luck to them; I want more and more of my constituents to have well paid jobs. But we cannot afford to replicate the high pay of the successful in the competitive sector—freely, out of the money that customers make available—in the public sector, where most of our staff are motivated by a sense of public duty and think that, say, £63,000 a year is a decent rate of pay. They should not need £160,000, £260,000 or £400,000 a year, which now seems to be the going rate for some of these quango jobs.

The Labour Government are rediscovering their socialist roots in a big way in this Budget, but I suggest that they could do themselves a favour by having a new rule in quangoland and throughout the public sector: not to give people salaries above the Prime Minister’s level of pay, and to go back to those already on mega-deals and ask them to make a contribution by taking a pay cut or accepting really tough performance criteria so that they have to earn it. We all know that most of those jobs in the public sector have been a joke so far and performance pay has been granted too readily.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): I fully endorse my right hon. Friend’s suggestion, but should salaries not be pro rata? Some of the chief executives and senior officials of these quangos not only earn more than the Prime Minister, but work only two or three days a week.

Mr. Redwood: My hon. Friend is tougher than I am, but he makes a good suggestion. I hope that Ministers have got the point that the situation is out of control. There are too many of these jobs—many of them are non-jobs—and too many are too highly paid. At this time when we need some restraint, we should try to reduce them.

We in this place also have to make a contribution. My worry about the Prime Minister’s YouTube discovery yesterday—I do not know why we could not have been told first, because it is after all a House of Commons matter—is that we are being offered a scheme that on the face of it, although no numbers have been given, will lead to an increase in the total cost of MPs’ expenses. That is completely wrong in this climate. The idea that people should be able to get more money just by turning up than they did by handing in proper invoices for things on which they were spending money is for the birds, and I hope that Ministers back off from it as quickly as possible. If they do not, they will find that the public, far from being impressed by the Prime Minister’s action, will feel extremely let down that he has discovered another way to pump more money to Labour Back Benchers without any proper accountability.
I guess that the proposal would get more hon. Members turning up at the House of Commons, and that could be a good thing—although, given that we are locked out for much of the time because the Government do not want us to meet, they may decide to lock us out for even more days in the year to try to keep the costs down. That would not be a very welcome development either, so I hope that we can look again at the proposal. We need to show leadership on our costs and expenses, just as we do throughout the public sector.

I do not know about you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I feel that we have had a surfeit of glossy brochures under this Government. Day after day, a great pile of them is put on the table in my office. I look at some of them, but most get thrown away. Many are worthless and, if I needed it, I could get most of the information from a simpler source or from a website. All the glossy brochures that Members of Parliament throughout the Commons get day after day are paid for by the public sector. Could we not have a glossy brochure sabbatical, or amnesty? That would be a modest saving, but it would show willing. For example, we could have no more glossy brochures until Christmas, which would mean that the Government could save them up and then issue only the ones that really mattered. If they really do have a wish to tell us what they are doing, websites are so much cheaper, and it would be rather good if they were kept updated.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): My right hon. Friend is talking about cancelling glossy brochures. May I volunteer the piece of fiction that is this year’s Red Book as the first option for cancellation?

Mr. Redwood: My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. There are lots of useless glossy brochures, but even the ones that we want have got glossier, bigger and more unreliable. We need to show a little common sense: the information that we need should be timely and accurate, not produced in this extremely elaborate way.

I have many more ideas, but many colleagues wish to speak in this debate so I will not go on at any greater length. My conclusion is that there are three major reasons why this country has been landed in such massive debt. The first is the huge mistake that has been made over the banks. My advice to the Government is to get out from under the bank assets and liabilities as quickly as possible. We cannot afford them, and they will only lose us a bigger fortune.

The Government still do not seem to know what risks they are running, so will they please take action today to start limiting the risks and selling off the assets that they have acquired? Will they also please tell people in the publicly owned banks that they will not be earning £300,000, £400,000 or £500,000 a year or getting mega-pensions as long as those banks are making losses? They are public sector bodies and we are responsible for the money. It is a waste of money to spend those sorts of sums on such banks unless they are going to go back to the private sector immediately and earn their living sensibly. If they do that, and the sort of salaries that I have mentioned can be paid for from private means, I have no problem with them.

The second reason is the violent cycle. We desperately need proper welfare reform from this Government. We went into the downturn with more than 5 million people of working age out of work. That was a disgrace, and it shows what a dear mistake it was to sack the man who was Minister for Welfare Reform at the beginning of this Government, the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). I think that he would probably have done a rather good job in improving incentives for work and limiting the welfare bills. Instead, we have gone on for years with no proper welfare reform.

The Government have allowed many people to be out of work, for good reasons or bad, and they have not ensured that they were brought into the work force in the good times. We need proper welfare reform so that we can get people back into work more quickly. If the Government do not reform welfare, they will not solve the problem of unemployment and they certainly will not control the budgets.

The third big reason why we are too heavily in debt is wasteful, needless and unnecessary public spending. There are many examples of that, and I have listed some items to show Ministers that we would know what we were doing. They must understand that pretending that there are a few more efficiency savings to be made without naming them is not a good enough answer.

I therefore have one last proposal that would make a big impact on Government budgets over the next couple of years: a complete freeze should be placed today on all staff, throughout the public sector, who do not work on the front line, and that replacements should be allowed only where they are absolutely necessary. If that were done, the Government would soon start to make an impact on the huge increases in spending that they have presided over. There are 300,000 extra civil servants compared with the number under the previous Conservative Government. Why does it take so many more to do a worse job? Of course, that is exactly what happens: the more people who are employed, the more difficult it is to control them, the more things they do that do not need doing and the more money is wasted.
The message is simple: the Government cannot solve a crisis of over-borrowing by borrowing more, or get out of a credit explosion by going on a public sector credit binge. If they take too many chances with the public accounts, there will be a buyers’ strike on Government debt. There is already a dangerous bubble in Government bonds which has been brought on by quantitative easing and their monetary antics. That is very insecure for savers and our economy.

As the Leader of the Opposition said, the way out of this problem is through saving, investing and exporting. We have had the years of borrowing, importing and spending foolishly. We now have to pay the bills.

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19 Comments

  1. Dungeekin
    Posted April 23, 2009 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Someone should make the Budget Rebuttal speech in song.

    This one should do it:

    Just imagine that you’re watching this Government imploding,
    And wasting eighteen million pounds an hour,
    Debt rising at five thousand pounds a second, so it’s reckoned,
    As Gordon tries and fails to stay in power,
    The debt for you and me, and everyone that you can see
    Goes up at seven hundred pounds a day,
    And it makes you really think, at eighteen million pounds an hour
    Just how much cash New Labour’s thrown away!

    And just to bail the banks out cost two hundred billion pounds,
    Our money thrown and wasted far and wide,
    And Brown and Darling both must be spectacularly thick,
    If they believe the voters can’t see how they’ve lied,
    Six billion pounds of tax on all high earners ain’t the point,
    When you borrow half a trillion in three years,
    If we don’t stop all the spending of billions and billions,
    Then our fiscal situation just gets worse!

    The National Debt itself keeps on expanding and expanding,
    To levels that scare most economists,
    As high as it can go – two trillion pounds you know,
    Three hundred grand a minute, New Labour really took the piss,
    So remember when your savings look unsafe and insecure,
    That Labour taxed us all for all we’re worth,
    And pray they’ll be some sense on the next Tory Budget Day,
    There’s been bugger all from this bunch of berks!

  2. kardinal birkutzki
    Posted April 23, 2009 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    John, further to my previous posting, I can only say what I said yesterday on Willem Buiter’s response to the budget: today is St George’s day and the Plough on the Wandsworth Road is doing Wells’s Bombadier at £1.50 a pint. The economy needs every penny of demand it can now muster and as a show of patriotism I shall shortly be “investing” ten pounds in it.

    I just had a friend on the phone lamenting our fate in the way that you have. He was iritated at my bursting into laughter; I had to tell him that it was the nervous, demented laughter of Herbert Lom in the Pink Panther films when he is confronted by the lunatic incompetence of Clouseau, for surely the latter has been our chancellor/PM for a dozen years. Except, of course, our Clouseau’s incompetence has long been found out and his lucky streak has ended.

    I can see no way out of this deep hole we are in and the only way seems to be to take the hardest cuts as soon as possible, even if this will come accross as 1980’s “there is no alternative” rhetoric.
    I shudder to think of how long it will take to extracate ourselves and the inevitable severe cuts, social unrest and individual hardship that I foresee in the next parliament.

    I wish you could put forward some more optimistic, concrete, easier solutions but I fear there are none. In the mean time I can only suggest that you find a hostelry with a similar special offer as the Plough and make your financial sacrifice. At least after 10 pints or more the short-term memory loss might provide some respite….

  3. JohnOfEnfield
    Posted April 23, 2009 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    …and all that the Government Front Bench could do during David Cameron’s reply was giggle like naughty school boys.

    The single word that caught my eye in all the budget analysis was “Shameless”. Especially when we find out after reading the Red Book that the chancellor intends to INCREASE public spending by over 5% in the run-up to the next General Election.

    My thanks to you for treating the budget seriously.

  4. oldrightie
    Posted April 23, 2009 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Brilliant.

  5. Robert
    Posted April 23, 2009 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Good speech.

    Slightly off direct topic but how about reforming MPs pay as follows:-

    1 Reduce number by 150.

    2 Give each MP say 300,000 GBP.

    3 Let them spend it how they like.

    4 No other benefits of any description whatsoever

    5 But each one has to produce a set of published accounts every year like any small business to show exactly and in detail how they have managed their affairs.

    I don’t see how MP’s can run the country if they could not run their own small business.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted April 23, 2009 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

      Why punish the electorate by reducing the number of their elected representatives, when the fault lies not with the electorate but with the current batch of representatives, and with the political parties which presented them as official candidates?

      I’d say that banning and disbanding the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties would work wonders for our democracy, in the short term. But of course in a democracy you can’t start banning political parties, not even for short term benefit.

  6. Ruth
    Posted April 23, 2009 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Excellent. thank you

  7. John Boettcher
    Posted April 23, 2009 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    For anyone who missed the (excellent) speech, it is available to watch and listen to online at

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00k00fn/House_of_Commons_Live_Budget_2009/

    About 1hour, 36m in.

    • Citizen Responsible
      Posted April 25, 2009 at 8:30 am | Permalink

      Thanks for this link. Good immediate hard hitting response from DC, followed up by broader and meaningful analysis from JR.

  8. Andy K
    Posted April 23, 2009 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Just one small correction, our glorious leader didn’t divorce Prudence, he brutally murdered her.

  9. Philip Parkin
    Posted April 23, 2009 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Excellent speech, John, and thank you for articulating so well what many of us are feeling. I have a suspicion that given things are only going to get worse (and the govt knows it) that there may well be an election before the next budget report. Anyone for a joint Euro/National election this year?

  10. Denis Cooper
    Posted April 23, 2009 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Happy St George’s Day.

    Although I’d disagree on some points I thought this was an excellent speech, fluently and clearly delivered, and without a prepared text to boot … it’s just a pity that so many MPs had got up and walked out at the end of Cameron’s speech, as many of them could have improved their minds by listening to it.

    I have a modest alternative proposal to paying MPs a daily allowance for attending Parliament, and that is to only allow them to vote if they have been in the chamber for at least half of the relevant debate.

    Easy enough to arrange – swipe cards to clock into the chamber and clock out, when a division is called the computer immediately calculates which MPs are eligible to vote, and the list is displayed at both lobbies.

    I’m being very reasonable here – I recognise that MPs will need to take breaks during a long debate.

    Of course this wouldn’t mean that they’d actually listen to anything that was said, let alone think about it; but it would be a start for them to be there.

  11. FatBigot
    Posted April 23, 2009 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Mr Redwood, I really enjoyed that. Thank you.

  12. Adrian Peirson
    Posted April 23, 2009 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    any chance we could edit it and get it on youtube.

    Reply: It is available I am told on the bbc site and I will post the link to the Hansard site when it is available. By all means edit it and send it where you like, as long as you do not distort its meaning.

  13. Philip Hutchinson
    Posted April 23, 2009 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    A brilliant speech. I am grateful that at least some MPs are taking the crisis seriously, offering sensible and reasoned critiques of the government’s policies, and suggesting achievable and common-sense policies to help us recover.

    More of the same, please, Mr Redwood. I hope, for all our sakes, that they listen to you, but I suspect we will have to wait until next May before we can get back to sorting the problems out – a disaster in itself.

  14. mikestallard
    Posted April 23, 2009 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for an excellent speech which truly reflected what your blogs and the comments have been saying for some time now.
    Our host made all the right noises and even dared to mention the EU!
    BUT
    “If they do not, they will find that the public, far from being impressed by the Prime Minister’s action, will feel extremely let down that he has discovered another way to pump more money to Labour Back Benchers without any proper accountability.” You see, the back benchers, had long gone by the time of the speech. Yet this was, apparently, the most important budget there has ever been or something like that. Skiving? No – they were on full pay with bath plug expenses!
    And where was Mr Speaker? I would have thought (silly me) that a thing like the most important budget there has ever been would have demanded the real (very expensive) person in gold robes rather than a stand-in Mr Deputy Speaker.
    What came out of this debate, to me, was the fact that parliament is no longer the place where government policy is discussed and questioned.
    U tube and the web and Newsnight are all very well.
    But they are not at all democratic.
    And I am.

    • FatBigot
      Posted April 24, 2009 at 6:55 am | Permalink

      One must be fair to Mr Speaker, even if some might suggest he doesn’t deserve it. For as long as I can remember a Deputy Speaker has presided over the Budget debate. It is one of those quaint customs that might be questionable but is sufficiently well-established that Mr Martin can escape censure on this occasion.

  15. Bill Quango mp
    Posted April 23, 2009 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    great speech. May I add this guide to the Pseudo-Chancellors realmeanings of some words in his speech.

  16. Steve Tierney
    Posted April 23, 2009 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

    As usual, amazing. Well done.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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