Economics drives politicians to act the same

Budget day looms, as does an election, so expect a series of ‘voter-friendly’ announcements, reckons our man in Westminster. The harsh truth is that politicians of all parties will have to act broadly the same, whoever forms the next government, as even more and deeper spending cuts will be needed..

When you read this, the Chancellor will have delivered the penultimate Budget of this Parliament. Who knows, it might even be his last. I have a hunch that this Budget will be more of a party political speech than an economic event of any significance.

The parties are increasingly in election campaigning mode, so this Budget will inevitably be laced with tax giveaways of various kinds designed to persuade the electorate that not only is the economy generally on the mend, thanks to the policies of this government, but that individuals too are beginning to feel the benefits.

Mind you, the Chancellor’s room for manoeuvre is strictly limited, and in order to pay Peter more, he will have to pay Paul less. It is also worth remembering that the deficit reduction plan is already two years behind schedule.

So, for all of the good news on the economic front, it is important to keep in mind that the age of austerity is still with us, and likely to remain so for the next few years.

Nobody is making any secret of the fact that in the next parliament the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whichever Party he or she represents, is going to have to make further deep cuts to public spending. Last week I read a report that cuts of at least 20bn will have to be made in 2015/16 if the budget deficit really is to be brought under control.

Local authority budgets will doubtless have to share the pain, and we all know what that might mean for support for subsidised bus services.

I would be amazed if these further cuts do not result in a rethink on the merits of BSOG and the universal free concessionary travel scheme.

It may be a quiet time for the bus industry in terms of policy developments, and the policy agenda remains stable and blissfully quiet. And I don’t see that changing even if Labour forms the next government: there simply is no money around to enable local authorities and Passenger Transport Executives to afford Quality Contracts. No doubt there will be some in Labour ranks who will press for policy reform should the party form the next government, but I can’t see it happening and I don’t detect any serious appetite for this at the top of the party.

Finally, I know the majority of bus drivers are represented by Len McClusky’s all-powerful Unite union, so the premature death of Bob Crow has little direct consequence for the bus industry.

I did, however, find the tributes from his political opponents, especially Boris Johnson, slightly curious. Just a few short weeks ago there was Boris laying into Bob Crow in no uncertain terms for his opposition to London Underground’s reforms of the staffing of ticket offices, only then, on the news of his death, to praise him from the rooftops for his determined and doughty defence of his member’s interests.

It just goes to show what a curious world politics really is. Small wonder that the public simply don’t understand politicians and find them a breed apart from ‘normal’ people.

As I write, news breaks of Tony Benn’s death. He was a formidable politician in many respects and certainly highly principled, unlike most modern-day politicians who have no principles at all.

But it is hard not to observe that he, along with a few of his Labour colleagues in the 1970s and 1980s, helped to keep Labour out of power for a generation.