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"A pinball machine" - George Osborne's verdict on Balls' fuel duty flip-flopping

By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday's Treasury questions was livened up, as it often is, by the exchanges between the Chancellor and Shadow Chancellor - Ed Balls. This week, Balls asked his first question on child benefit cuts, a (perfectly legitimate) theme Labour MPs had already asked the Chancellor about. He asked:

"The Chancellor’s policy on child benefit seems to be that a two-earner family on £84,000 can keep all their child benefit, but a one-earner family on £43,000—whether that is a single parent, or where mum or dad stays at home to look after the kids—will lose all their child benefit, which is £2,500 if the family has three kids. What is fair about that? For the benefit of Labour Members, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Justice Secretary, the Prime Minister and Government Back Benchers, will the Chancellor tell the House what is today’s policy on child benefit?"

The Chancellor played a straight bat:

"What I would say to the right hon. Gentleman is that I think it is fair to ask those in the top 15% of the income distribution to make a contribution to the fiscal consolidation. I happen to think that that is fair. If we now have a Labour shadow Chancellor who thinks it is not fair to ask people in the top 15% of income distribution to make a contribution to cutting a 9% budget deficit, he has completely lost sight of his party’s values."

Balls decided there was no way past the Chancellor, so decided to pursue fuel duty. Late last year, George Osborne postponed Labour's planned increase in fuel duty, but the planned increase is due to come into force in August this year. This is what Ed Balls had to say:

"So on the comparison of £43,000 and £84,000, we are none the wiser. Let me ask the Chancellor another question about family finances. A year ago, he promised to get the economy growing and introduce a fair fuel stabiliser, which would cut fuel duty when petrol prices were higher. One year on, he is now indicating that he is going to press ahead with fuel duty increases, even though rising oil prices mean that pump prices have today reached a record high. How can he press ahead when petrol prices are 4p higher than they were in last year’s Budget? What has happened to the stabiliser, or is it not the truth that he cannot do the right thing on child benefit, tax credits or fuel because his plans have failed? A year ago, he said in the Budget that he would put fuel into the tank of the British economy. The fact is that the economy has tanked—on the hard shoulder—and this Chancellor has run out of fuel."

The Chancellor condemned Ed Balls for political opportunism - given it was the last Labour government that planned the fuel increase in the first place:

"There is an inconvenient truth, which is that the fuel duty rises that the right hon. Gentleman refers to are the ones put in place by the Labour Government, which he and any Labour Member who was in the previous Parliament voted for. That is the unbelievable opportunism of the Labour party today. One month it is VAT, another month it is child tax credits and now it is fuel. He is like a pinball machine, bouncing all over the place. He does not have a credible economic policy."

Read the whole session in Hansard.

> On Comment today, Robert Halfon MP urges a 2.5p cut in fuel duty to help spur economic growth.


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