The dearest Darling Budget – his first and last
In past ages, a 50 per cent rise in the price of wheat in a year would have produced riots in the streets, even, in some countries, revolution. It shows what a rich society we have become if we no longer regard bread as a staple, and therefore do not protest. Perhaps there will be a gradual shift of perception by which bread will be regarded as a luxury. Instead of serving it ‘free’ to accompany other food, restaurants will make it into a special, swanky course, like dishes cooked with white truffles. People will assume that the bread and wine Jesus offered up at the Last Supper were symbols of kingly luxury rather than the basics of life. And the ‘breadwinner’ of the household will be not the daily earner, but the lottery-winner, the person who struck it rich. Yet I cannot help thinking that the end of the era which environmentalists like Prince Charles disparage as ‘our obsession with cheap food’ will quite soon stir up public anger. Green prohibitions on GM crops will come to seem as oppressive as the Corn Laws.
It is axiomatic that one cannot buck the markets, so what interventions before breakfast, before lunch and before dinner may one expect today from Mr Darling, for intervene and interfere he most certainly shall, not least in the realms of private property (ie money).
According to Proverbs 29:4, ‘By just government a king gives his country stability, but by forced contributions he reduces it to ruin’. When complaints become social and economic, when farmers may not work the land and when workers lay idle, a government is in jeopardy.
There all manner of humanitarian injunctions in Scripture that the wealth of the people should sustain the people as a whole, but it the problem of poverty is to be resolved by the action of the individual or perhaps the individual on behalf of the family (Ex 22:21-24); it was never intended that such a person would not be free to do as he chooses. There was no formal law during this era to compel him to take care of the underprivileged, but a constant appeal to the conscience. And even for those who insist that the injunctions emanate from the royal court, they did not constitute state law.
The annual budget long ceased to have anything to do with ‘social justice’, and has become little more than a conjuring trick. Bertrand Russell once said that the essence of politics is obtaining money from the rich and votes from the workers, under the pretext of protecting them from each other. If he had tried to define party politics, he could not have done better, but the true meaning of politics is to serve the ‘whole’ - the entire community. When politics is understood in this sense, meaning knowledge of and duty towards the community, then its pursuit becomes a duty for everyone, and Christians in particular.
The problem with New Labour – under both Mr Blair and Prime Minister Brown – is that their ‘third way’ politics has been a sham. Mr Blair was positively messianic in his creed, promising at one point that he would save Africa. He did not. And then came Mr Brown, boasting his Scottish Presbyterian roots and invoking Scripture to suffer the little children (all of them). But he has not. They articulated a kind of liberation theology, but they brought neither revolution nor radicalism: the poor were not enriched, and the oppressed have not been liberated. Indeed, poverty has increased over the past decade, and the gap between rich and poor has widened. In truth, all have been impoverished under New Labour, and all have been increasingly oppressed by the gradual erosion of ancient liberties.
There is little sense in the Old Testament of witnessing to the demands of the poor for their rights within their own society; it is rather the expression of the conscience of those who have sufficiency. So Mr Darling might spare us his hour-long sermon on Mammon today – messing around with jots and tittles, cutting a penny here and adding a penny there, robbing Peter to pay Paul - and instead quite simply cut taxes considerably whilst simultaneously exhorting the population to give freely and generously. It is with the perception that the State now performs all acts of charity and has nationalised welfare that philanthropy has diminished.
Cranmer would give his right arm (if he but had one) to be rid of this tired and tedious and over-taxing anti-Christian government, and he looks forward enormously to the Conservative Party building upon its innovative and excellent foundational budgetary plans of taxing Bacardi Breezers.