The budget was one of the big political occasions of the parliamentary year. It showed what the remainder of this Parliament will be like – a series of political traps for the opposition.
None more so than a motion to agree the Charter for Budget Responsibility. The plan was simple. The government would set out the proposed welfare budget for each of the next five years. Any changes would require alternative savings or returning to Parliament to change the cap.
The chancellor was to introduce the measure himself .
It’s not primarily about welfare. There’s a separate debate about different welfare priorities, given urgency by the fact that the government is spending £13bn more on welfare than planned.
So the ‘bedroom tax’ will go if Labour wins the election but reducing the housing benefit bill long term requires building more affordable houses.
A growing welfare budget should not be seen as either desirable or a badge of success. We need more people in work earning decent wages.
The idea that governments should set spending envelopes and try to live within their means is not unreasonable. Refuse to back it and any party risks sending out the message that they are financially irresponsible.
The chancellor seemed surprised that Labour MPs overwhelmingly backed the charter. He shouldn’t have been – Ed Miliband advocated such an approach in a speech in 2012.