UK Politics

Mixed reactions to Budget from grassroots Lib Dems

George Osborne

George Osborne has unveiled the biggest package of tax increases and spending cuts in a generation, in what he described as an "unavoidable Budget" aimed at tackling Britain's record debts.

But the measures - including a rise in VAT from 17.5% to 20%, a public sector pay freeze and cuts to family tax credits and housing benefits - have received mixed reactions from Lib Dem party supporters.

James Graham, of the Social Liberal Forum, founded by Lib Dem members and campaigners, said it was neither "economically literate" nor "socially just".

"We are slashing too fast and I am not happy about [the ratio of] tax rises to spending cuts," he told the BBC.

Sections of the poorest communities would be worst hit, he said, such as the young and out of work - who would be affected by cuts in benefits and measures to tackle youth unemployment.

'VAT bombshell'

"That generation seems to be getting put on the scrap heap. I think they would rather pay more taxes in their 40s than be in long-term unemployment," he said.

"I don't see how that helps the economy or social justice."

Benjamin Ramm, editor of The Liberal magazine, agreed that the announcement was not the "progressive" Budget promised, and instead revealed a Lib Dem failure to ensure the coalition tackled inequality.

He particularly criticised the rise in VAT, something the Lib Dem party campaigned against at the election, when they warned of the "VAT bombshell" the Conservatives would explode after polling day.

The Lib Dems were, in fact, "duty-bound" as a party to redistribute wealth as a primary priority, Mr Ramm argued.

"It is incumbent on Liberal Democrats to temper the zeal of those within the coalition who desire swift and 'savage' cuts in place of responsible, redistributive measures that assist those on lower incomes.

"This VAT rise is a tax on the poor to absolve the sins of the rich."

But around the country, Lib Dem members appeared to have already braced themselves for the worst.

'Painful exercise'

Trudy Dean, leader of Kent County Council Lib Dems, said she had reluctantly accepted that tax rises and cutbacks were something "we have to bear".

"I think everybody's disappointed that VAT has become a necessary part of this package," she said. "But given the deficit, it is important that we need to make some cuts."

Judith Brooksbank, blogger and Lib Dem town councillor in Keighley, West Yorkshire, believes the Budget's contents were inevitable.

"It isn't nice to have cuts. It isn't easy. But there are times when one has to do it when one has a debt. I think it is the same nationally," she told the BBC.

She welcomed moves to support small businesses, but added that she would have liked to have heard more about funding for science and technology.

"We have to make money somewhere and I think green technology is one of those things," she said.

Roger Styring, Lib Dem deputy leader of Northumberland County Council, agreed that the Budget cuts were expected, but admitted putting them into practice would be "a painful exercise".

"County Hall here in Morpeth employs a lot of people; we are the biggest employer in Northumberland. So the mood is not good but it is not unexpected," he said.

He added: "It is a national problem and we have to work together as a nation to deliver the services people want at a price we can afford."

But for Lib Dem supporter and blogger Joe Otten, who also agreed the tax rises and cuts were necessary, the previous government was to blame for the tough Budget.

"They have already spent all the money any new taxes will raise. Yet to hear them, you'd think this was all unnecessary. We could keep spending. Deficits don't matter. Cuts are ideological," he said.

"Well maybe they are for some, but it is hardly a criticism you can make when you have £44bn of cuts in your own fiscal plans. To be clear, Labour do not have a leg to stand on when they criticise the first £44bn of cuts."