Brian Monteith: Prudent sobriety was just what we needed

Philip Hammond's budget was an exercise in prudent sobriety. Picture: AFP/Getty

Philip Hammond's budget was an exercise in prudent sobriety. Picture: AFP/Getty

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Well, that was a thoroughly dull Budget! This, I hasten to add, is on this occasion a very good thing. We should rejoice; not quite dancing in the streets or popping the champagne corks, for this was a quiet restrained Budget – but that’s what the country has been needing. Prudent sobriety has a lot going for it when it comes to making taxing and spending decisions.

Too many chancellors – of all parties – have put our economy in trouble by overreaching themselves and getting carried away. Nigel Lawson, a good reforming chancellor, ruined his reputation by fiddling with mortgage relief and creating a property boom. Gordon Brown told us he had abolished “Tory Boom and Bust” only to preside over the most ridiculous debt-financed boom and the correspondingly worst bust.

Ken Buchanan receives the Edinburgh Award. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Ken Buchanan receives the Edinburgh Award. Picture: Ian Georgeson

George Osborne, professing to learn from Brown’s mistakes, then simply carried on with all the fiddling about. While he did some good stuff in raising tax thresholds (first put forward by Maurice Saatchi) he was also prone to be too clever by half and had more than one omnishambles where his announcements had unravelled by the next day. Remember the Pasty Tax?

When we get bankers driving around in Ferraris we should be worried – they should have safe and sombre saloons. When we get Chancellors playing to the gallery we should rush to look at the small print.

So now, when we get Chancellor Philip Hammond delivering one of the dullest Budgets I can ever remember I have to pinch myself and think with the economy still not out of the woods this is what was needed. Predictability and certainty where the announcements are not surprising and bear a close relationship to what was flagged up only in November.

Last year Osborne announced 77 changes, this week Hammond made only 28! In amongst those bullet points was the good news that productivity has risen most in Scotland (where it especially needed to improve). Growth forecast have been revised upwards next year as have employment ratios and public debt reduction.

Hammond has also inherited silly taxes such as the Sugar Duty, due in later this year and which have failed in every country they have been tried. He also had to face a problem of equitable treatment of national insurance payments where it would have been better to cut them for salaried employees rather than raise them for the self-employed – but with funds still tight I can understand his approach.

Although dull, Hammond did manage two jokes at Jeremy Corbyn’s expense – one about money for research into driverless cars – and how the opposition must know a thing about that – and how Corbyn is so far down a black hole even Stephen Hawking has disowned him.

The public finances remain the biggest worry and are still susceptible to a crash in the eurozone or a misstep in the US economy hitting us off course. There’s not a lot of room for error, but hey, it was only last year we had politicians like Osborne telling us that if we left the EU we’d need an Emergency Budget as the economy would be in turmoil. That seems an age ago. Good riddance to Smart Alec chancellors and welcome back the anonymous types who don’t look for the spotlight.

City makes a fist of honouring Ken

It has taken too long for the City to give proper recognition to Ken Buchanan so it was great to see him being presented with the Edinburgh Award and the Loving Cup by the Lord Provost last Friday.

One of only four British undisputed World Boxing Champions; twice toping the bill above Muhammad Ali; appearing at Madison Square Gardens five times; the only living British boxer to be inducted to the International Boxing Hall of Fame back in 2000; voted Britain’s Greatest ever Boxer by Boxing News; and the only British Boxer to win the American Boxing Writers’ Fighter of the Year – yet Ken Buchanan has only been given an MBE! Some sportsmen have been given a knighthood for less. Calls for a statue deserve support and would go some way to the City crowning his legendary status.

Praise for Jim’s honest stance

IN politics the easiest thing is to go with the flow, to say what you think people want to hear rather than tell some honest truths that might lose a few friends and upset the party you have been supporting for decades.

So hats off to Jim Sillars who has let it be known that if there’s another independence referendum that would only result in Scotland giving up its newfound freedoms back to Brussels then he wants no part of it and would abstain.

Using his sincere socialist principles Jim has seen through the EU’s corporatist and centralising approach that lines the pockets of a detached political elite while neutering proud nations from helping their own folk. It took guts to say it and the fact he has had some pelters shows he has touched a raw nerve in the SNP – after some 400,000 of its supporters voted for Leave last June.

Let us rejoice at Hezza’s exit

So, Michael Heseltine has been sacked as an adviser to Theresa May’s government after organising a rebellion against her Article 50 legislation in the Lords.

“Just rejoice at that news” I say, to borrow a phrase. Why on earth he was an adviser in the first place is beyond me. The man has been a dangerous attention-seeker throughout his political career with a many a political failure dressed up as success thanks to an astute ability for Vaudeville performances and public relations skills that rewrote the truth. We don’t need a meaningful vote in the Houses of Parliament, we had a meaningful vote in the referendum when the public told the Lords and the Commoners what they thought.