Runners-up for best Miliband joke: The prime minister’s: “He threw the kitchen sinks at the NHS and that didn’t work.” (Groans.) Balls wants to be in his kitchen cabinet but doesn’t know which one. (Groans.) “He literally doesn’t know where his next meal’s coming from.” (Laughter). Then Osborne (ref fast broadband): “So should someone have two kitchens, they will be able to control both fridges from the same mobile phone.” (Overwhelming laughter with stifled snorts from Labour.) But the winner, one of the few tax planning jokes to achieve a popular reaction: George Osborne said he’s reworking the legal basis for a Deed of Variation (Tory delight) and in the autumn will be consulting the leader of the opposition “if the party opposite hasn’t executed its own deed of variation by then.” (Fatter Tories straining at the seams.) “We liked that,” A Labour MP said. “It showed just how nasty Osborne is.”
The Long Term Economic Plan was the most daring plan when it was published – and its most devout supporters thought it was going to need some inspired statisticians to make it look as though it was working.
But it’s a rout.
All those things the PM says about jobs, growth, the deficit – you need to overwork your confirmation bias to argue against them.
So, Ed Miliband re-ran his greatest hits – and just kept running into the prime minister’s clunking fist. Why hadn’t he kept his promises on A&E waiting times? Why did he close hospitals? Why are cancer targets being missed? We know that some of these targets are being missed but many by tiny amounts. We know too that Labour closed hospitals. And that the Tories have spent more than Labour on health. The picture of medieval misery that Miliband sees in his Rorschach test is hard to share. And when he says, “Why on earth should anyone believe him?” some of us think: “Wasn’t that Iain Duncan Smith’s line?”
“A budget that no one will believe,” he said later.
Maybe parts of it will be contested, maybe there’ll be a pasty in it. But the previous leadership line was that state spending was going back to level of the Great Depression. Osborne said that state spending would stabilize at the level of 2001. That was when Gordon Brown was the greatest chancellor in the world (an active lefty sticking to Tory spending limits).
So, the impossible has been achieved. It used to be about jam tomorrow. Now, heady with its success, the Tory leadership is suggesting no jam at all. The budget plan says: “If you refrain from having this doughnut now, you can have a very large tuna salad in five years time.” No wonder Labour is less downcast than it ought to be.