Kent's Labour MPs
Those of Kent's Labour MPs - and it appears to be most of them - who see Gordon Brown as the next Prime Minister following the departure of Tony "I will serve a full term" Blair, might do well to invite "The Clunking Fist" to bang on a few doors in East Kent. All the signs are that Mr. Brown's `last budget` has all the lift-off of the proverbial lead balloon!
Out on the pre-council election trail over the weekend it became apparent that it took all of five minutes for the great British public to see through the thin smoke and cracked mirrors. There are a very large number of disillusioned people out there and that two groups, in particular, are unlikely to be `illusioned` again as long as `the present lot` are in office.
First, the pensioners. Those who have modest retirement incomes derived from state pension and, perhaps, a little occupational pension have become used to paying their taxes at, mostly, the 10 pence. rate. Seeing that disappear in a cloud of dust and the rate "lowered" to 20 pence has not overjoyed them.
It's not much comfort, either, to be told that by April 2011 their personal allowance will have risen to £10,000 tax-free or that "the poorest" will receive additional pension credit. The Credit System is, as many know from bitter experience, a nightmare and there are few who would wish to rely upon the Revenue and Customs computer to dispense the largesse with which they will be required to pay increased gas, electricity and council tax bills.
One of the other key areas of concern is the situation now faced by small businesses. Kent's commercial economy is based, to a very large extent, upon the hundreds of our local small firms who individually each employ a handful of people but collectively are responsible for a huge slice of the County's household incomes.
The Lord only knows why this Chancellor of the Exchequer has, in his last gasp, chosen to punish small firms - but punish them he has. With immediate effect, appropriately from All Fool's Day, firms which make profits of up to £300,000 will face a one per cent rise in Corporation Tax. That tax will rise again in 2008 and again, to 22% in what many believe will be election year, 2009. That may not seem, at first, like a huge rise but it could well mean the difference between a small company - a corner shop, a hairdressers or a taxi company, say - deciding not to take on an extra employee or to invest in larger premises or more modern information technology or other equipment. In short, it's another slap in the face for those entrepreneurs that bring home the bacon.
A colleague who is more adept at high finance than I tells me that Gordon Brown has raised tax by 5p in every pound to a current 38.3%, that his annual debt interest bill is only £2 billion short of our entire defence budget at £30 billion and that it represents enough to wipe out the student tuition fees now paid by every aspiring graduate some eight times over - every single year!
Remembering, as I painfully do, the long and harsh political night of 1997 I would say in friendship to my Kent Labour colleagues that they would do well to either find someone else for Her Majesty to invite to form a government or make arrangements for a premature change of career direction.