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Could George Osborne grant Nigel Dodds his fuel duty wish?


Nigel Dodds

Nigel Dodds

Nigel Dodds

On Thursdays in the Commons, the Leader of the House announces the business for the coming week and then takes questions.

If they phrase the question properly, remembering to ask for a statement, or a debate, MPs can raise any matter they like.

It is a useful tool for members to get their hobby-horses on the record.

Last week, the DUP's leader at Westminster, Nigel Dodds (above), praised the Government. He clearly wanted something.

"Some good work has been done in this parliament to hold down fuel duty and I pay tribute to the Government for that," he said.

"However, may we have a debate on the benefits of cutting fuel duty, such as boosting jobs, boosting the economy and helping hard-pressed families?

"Given that it would be self-financing, would it not be a good idea to think about it in the run-up to the Budget?"

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Fuel duty is constantly raised by our MPs and Leader of the House Andrew Lansley, the former health secretary exiled to this backroom role after the war over NHS reform, had a stock answer.

"I will tell the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the right honourable gentleman's thoughts in the run-up to the Budget.

"We will, of course, debate those issues during the Budget debate," he said.

"I share his sense of how important it is to people that fuel duty has been frozen for the entire parliament, with the result that it will be 20p per litre lower than it would have been under the escalator put in place by the previous government."

As a rule, ministers must not disclose anything that might be in the Budget and, in any case, it is unlikely that Lansley knows what George Osborne will announce in his Budget speech in the Commons next Wednesday.

But we can be pretty sure there will be some pre-election goodies.

The Chancellor has stuck to his austerity plan, in spite of negative headlines about the bedroom tax, the 50p tax rate and cost of living.

With the economy showing signs of recovery, it's time to "give something back" to the voters. And it will need to be eye-catching; something to dominate the news agenda and resonate with people in those key marginal seats.

If David Cameron is ever going to win a majority – and there are many in his party who worry their Eton-educated leader will never win over the people in the way Thatcher and Major did – then he needs to cut taxes like a real Tory.

Will Nigel Dodds's repeated pleas for a cut in fuel duty finally be heard?

That is a political calculation the Chancellor will no doubt weigh up.

Next week, George Osborne will deliver a pre-election Budget. There will, hopefully, be something to make life a little easier for people in Northern Ireland and across the UK.

Osborne probably won't mention that, since he took charge in 2010, the national debt has risen from £811bn to £1,232bn. Remember that on Wednesday when you read about Osborne's vote-winning tax-cuts.

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