If you were expecting (though I suspect you hadn’t even thought about it) a post on the budget on this blog, you will be disappointed. There are far more qualified people than me who have analysed and commented on it at length.

For that matter there are far less qualified people than who have analysed and commented on it at length.

However, one of the proposals – taken straight from the Conservatives – of abolishing stamp duty for first time buyers for two years did catch my eye.

Although it’s taken from the Conservatives I’m not 100% sure I think it’s a great policy. For a start, how on earth is it to be policed? Is it really going to be cost-effective to check that all buyers have never owned a property anywhere for something that’s only saving the buyer a maximum of £2,500 (and costing the Exchequer the same), why not just extend it to all sales? Perhaps the bigger problem is how you stop sellers and estate agents simply adding a couple of thousand to the asking price, now that buyers don’t need to find stamp duty. Foxton’s, I’m mainly looking at you here.

However, it make me think about Wandsworth’s record of affordable housing. Which despite what you might think, is actually quite good.
For a start, council house sales has created a market of affordable properties. My first step on the housing ladder was an ex-council leasehold flat. It wasn’t the greatest first step, but the only way I was able to afford to get onto the property ladder. I doubt I could have ever started in any other inner London borough that hadn’t had a council sales policy.

The other factor is that Wandsworth is, amazingly, one of the country’s largest builder of new council homes. Surprising as it might seem Conservative Wandsworth is responsible for a significant proportion of the new council homes in the country through its Hidden Homes policy. Shelter’s recently published ‘league table’, placed Wandsworth in 16th place nationally, and 3rd in London, for provision of affordable housing. Admittedly, I’d quibble with some of the figures they used, but it does show that despite the opposition’s claims, nationally and locally, Wandsworth has a good record when it comes to offering and creating opportunity for those starting out.

The earliest post on this blog is from 24 November 2008 on the benefits of low taxation (actually the blog wasn’t public until nearly a month later, on 17 December, but that was the oldest surviving test post).

In it I suggested that the temporary VAT cut probably wasn’t that good a measure, and that efficient and effective government was a much better way of putting money in people’s pockets.

I still hold to that. I don’t think the VAT cut really helped that many people (I have saved a few quid over the year, but I’ve probably not spent any more or less than I otherwise would have). The poorest benefited least, because a larger part of their spending was on VAT-free or reduced VAT items. And I suspect the impact of the rise will more than outweigh the effect of the cut – not because the figures are any different, but from the purely psychological effect a tax increase has.

And then there are all the other tax increases. A 45% tax on high earners. A 50% tax on banker’s bonuses. In the current climate, in which being a high earner is becoming a mark of shame and bankers deserve hanging, drawing and quartering these will doubtless be popular. I’m sure Darling is hoping they’ll be enough to help people to overlook the years Labour spent cosying up to the City or that it was the financial powerhouse behind a lot more years of growth than years of recession.

The ½p increase in National Insurance will perhaps be less popular (since it is, effectively, a tax rise) and public sector workers will, no doubt, be disappointed to hear that they will be having a 1% cap on pay increases for two years (a good chunk of which will be wiped out by the National Insurance increase).

There was some other tinkering. I can only view his boiler scrappage scheme as petty politics since he clearly knows I’ve just replaced my boiler. And I’m sure Gala Bingo in Tooting will welcome the drop in bingo duty. But the deferral of the corporation tax increase for small businesses obviously has to be welcomed.

However, the key problem, the elephant in the room, is the borrowing. And nothing here really seems to be tackling the problem the next government will have to face – indeed, he raised his borrowing forecast. So while we have the promised bill to half public debt in four years there is nothing to back it up.

Darling had the chance of being the real Iron Chancellor today, putting politics aside and making announcements that might be politically painful but in the national interest. His announcements may not have been electoral bribes, but failed to grasp the nettle of public spending.

And, like a year ago, I come to the same conclusion – the best solution is good, efficient, Conservative government.

Last week I touched on the Labour gimmick of freezing council tax in the eight London boroughs they control and suggested that, actually, if you wanted value and quality services you were better sticking with Conservative authorities that already had a track record.

I failed to mention yesterday the Boris Johnson has again frozen the GLA’s budget. The second year he’s done it and, no coincidence, the second year he’s controlled the budget!

Compare this with Labour’s Ken Livingstone, who managed to double what he took from you over his eight years in office.

Mayor of London, Boris JohnsonIsn’t it odd to hear the Labour and Green Party GLA members belittling Boris Johnson’s council freeze because it will only save 11p a week on council tax? These are the same people who presumably believe that 2.5% off VAT will save the world.

What they fail to realise is that we finally have a Mayor who is serious about controlling the City Hall budget, and that’s good news that doesn’t just last until the end of next year.

In his 8 years as Mayor Ken Livingstone managed to double the precept City Hall took to run the GLA from £150 to over £300 – that’s about 11% a year. Assuming past record is a good indicator of future performance (and I reckon eight years is enough to get a handle on him) it means the difference between a Johnson and Livingstone mayoralty is that the average household will be £400 better off.