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Wednesday, August 25, 2010 

Nick Clegg and a budget he can't be proud of.

As Tom Freeman and Sunder Katwala have gone to great pains to gently point out, Nick Clegg's complaint, repeated again today, that the Institute for Fiscal Studies hasn't taken into account what the coalition government might do in the future when delivering their verdict on the budget (even more regressive than they said previously) is not exactly the most compelling argument as to why we should disregard their reasoning.

Absurd as the notion is that the IFS should adjust their statistical models according to policies which have not yet been introduced and which probably have still not even been gestated yet, you can still just about see his point, you just have to frame it differently. The message he is presumably trying to get across is that we shouldn't judge the coalition on its first "emergency" budget, when many of the Liberal Democrat policies which the coalition agreed upon introducing are either yet to arrive or have only been started upon. And it would indeed have been perverse to judge New Labour on their first two budgets, especially when you consider what they did in the following years and how in their first two years of government they followed the spending limits bequeathed to them by the Tories.

The difference is that, as the IFS shows, it's as a direct consequence of the parts of Labour's budget which George Osborne didn't repudiate that their effort isn't even more potentially regressive, yet the coalition, in claiming that their budget is imbued with fairness and is overall progressive, gives them no credit for. The difficulty for Nick Clegg is that Vince Cable no less claimed that this budget was one they could be proud of; that's this budget, rather than an imaginary one in the future which will include measures which will show this initial IFS model to be completely inaccurate. While we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves, and 2014 is still a long way off, we can only make judgements based on Rumsfeld's known knowns, not his known unknowns. Either Clegg and his party accept that this budget did not have, as they claimed, "fairness hardwired into it", or they can instead argue that the real progressive measures are yet to come, ones which will put right the soaking of the poor yet to come. They cannot do both.

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