March 6, 2024 - 3:30pm

We are a badly governed country and every Budget only confirms it. It has reached the point where we would be better off scrapping the entire charade and simply have the Treasury inform us by press release every time it decides to change one measure or another.

The whole thing seems to become more and more unreal with each passing year, the drama intensifying as the actual impact of the event seems to diminish. This was a Budget for “growth not sustained by migration”, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced in the House of Commons — at the very moment he boasted about new higher growth forecasts which are largely a result of immigration because, in reality, we’re all still getting poorer.

But it wasn’t only that. Hunt spoke of cutting taxes just as they are rising; of debt falling when it is growing; and of radical new plans to improve public sector productivity, when this has been the Government plan for a quarter of a century.

The biggest measure in the Budget had been trailed: a 2p cut in national insurance. Other announcements included allowing more middle-class parents to keep their child benefit payments, freezing fuel and alcohol duties (again) and, bizarrely, cutting the amount of tax paid on second homes.

What did it all amount to? What was the story the Chancellor was trying to tell? As far as I can tell, it was something like this: having tamed inflation, we can now afford to cut taxes for families and businesses without having to make any cuts in public services because we will bring back growth in the economy. Oh, and it will be “long-term” growth that will be spread across the whole country and will not be dependent on migration.

In a sense, it was a melange of all the messages we’ve had over the past 13 years of Conservative rule, an attempt to bring all the various strands together before the next election. But what is the strategy underneath, the great plan to make Britain prosperous again? Long-term investment seems to be the new answer, 13 years into its time in office.

Will the Budget be enough to save the Tories at the next election? The benches behind Hunt did not seem overjoyed with what they heard. The real problem, though, is not that it is too little: it is that it is too late and too obviously untrue.

The underlying reality of the British economy, the real story going into the next election, is one in which taxes are at a record high, living standards falling, growth anaemic, migration at record highs and public services clearly decaying.

And what did Hunt really announce today? He shifted the burden of taxation marginally away from workers and the middle classes while leaving much largely as it was. Spending on public services will not move — once immigration is taken into account — while debt will remain just as high as it was and the tax burden will inch up still further. Meanwhile, the country will continue to age.

This was not a Budget to win an election. Perhaps Hunt will have one last shot before polling day after all.

is UnHerd’s Political Editor. He is the author of Betting The House: The Inside Story of the 2017 Election.