Jeremy Corbyn has complained about the media, but today they have been his best friend. After Philip Hammond delivered his first Budget, it was the Leader of the Opposition’s turn to respond. However hr missed the one open goal offered to him by the Chancellor – the rise in Class 4 National Insurance Contributions, contrary to the Conservatives’ 2015 Election manifesto. Mr Corbyn is lucky, therefore, that the media were on hand to do his job of scrutinising the government. Were it not for the media picking up on this point, the only challenge Mr Hammond would have faced is Corbyn’s usual moan of a lack of funding for education, social care and the NHS in a Budget which gave more funding to education, social care and the NHS.
The Conservatives, who had prepared their excuses in advance, have dealt with this badly. They are denying that it is breaking their manifesto commitment, citing the legislation passed which prevented Class 1 National Insurance rises. They should instead have put their hands up, admitted they have broken their manifesto promise. This would not only allow them to move on quickly from the issue, but also improve their credibility among the electorate. This is because they will be seen to be honest by accepting this criticism, rather than denying something that is glaringly obvious (to all but Jeremy Corbyn) and thus being seen as sly and deceiving. The policy itself would be fairly easy to defend as Labour voted for the legislation which explicitly protected Class 1 National Insurance rates but not Class 4.
The Chancellor should take heart that the main criticism of his Budget is the fact that the he has broken a manifesto commitment, and there is no real criticism of the policies themselves. Even Labour are not criticising what is a sensible policy – to have parity of National Insurance rates for the employed and the self-employed. Therefore Mr Hammond should be content with his day’s work and the confidence he had to throw in a few jokes was justified.