Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Move over Darling - this is your last Budget

I was at my desk every Budget Day in a career of more than 30 years as a City reporter. It is the most important day in the financial journalists’ calendar and I would always come into the office even if it broke into a holiday.
Under normal circumstances – excluding bank crises and the like – the Budget can be guaranteed to project the City Desk to top of most newspapers' pecking order in terms of column inches if only for one day. I never wanted to miss the action.
But I soon came to dread Gordon Brown’s Budget speeches when he became Chancellor after New Labour's 1997 victory.
He would gabble at breakneck speed, dust down old measures and present them as new, and tell downright porkies. Worst of all he would only include favourable elements in his speech; the Red Book of Budget measure breakdowns revealed the true cost of his stealth taxes later. Sometimes it could be days before the truth behind the Budget statement was uncovered by City number crunchers.
This is still better than what my former colleagues had to contend with today when Alistair Darling presented his last Budget (probably ever) before the General Election. It was irrelevant beyond belief.
There was simply nothing in Darling’s speech to address the major issue facing the UK economy – where the full weight of the public spending cuts is going to fall?
The modest items that the Chancellor did specify came under the woolly heading of efficiency savings. They either won’t happen – or if they do it begs the question why the profligacy with taxpayers’ money in the first place?
Everything touched on by Darling was predicated on economic growth estimates, which were hopelessly optimistic. Where were measures to help business especially exporters achieve these goals? National insurance hikes will undo any of the modest positives in the Budget.
To divert attention from the UK’s astronomic borrowing burden, there was a little bash-the-rich politicking. Meanwhile scrapping 1 per cent Stamp Duty on property worth under £250,000 for first time buyers - for a couple of years - might catch a headline or two but will have little real effect.
Altogether this was a boring Budget which had both eyes fixed on the General Election – and I would suggest on Alistair Darling’s career following defeat. The best that can be said is that he has stood up to Gordon Brown and resisted pressure to lavish more vote-hunting goodies on the electorate. This would have made our horrendous borrowing levels even worse than they are today.

1 comment:

  1. Yes GC. You have left 'us all ' in no doubt regarding your views on the ability of our 'New' Labour chancellors. All 2 of them. And they say that the potential Conservative one is even better !

    That's right GC, says Jaffa. With Darling we have just had the anaesthetic, without the operation following on. With Osborne we have been promised the operation without the anaesthetic. Ah yes GC he tempts us with a return to those golden halcyon days of the Thatcher regime when the patient died on the operating table.

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What do you think? GC