The Week in Politics: A leaky Budget
The similarities between this feature and Budget 2012 are legion. This feature will not do anything to correct inequality and it’s probably not fiscally neutral. More importantly, both of them serve to regurgitate the news stories of the last few days.
George Osborne did the best he could to deliver it with conviction, although this was hampered, as ever, by his inability to maintain his voice during public speaking – a uniquely unfortunate quality for a politician.
The chancellor rattled through the newspaper headlines from the days before his announcement, laughably adding the phrase "today I can announce" to each one. A mild upgrade in the OBR growth forecasts. Transparency statements to show you where your taxes were going. 'Perpetual' government bonds. Change to the planning regulations. Action on stamp duty avoidance. A rise in stamp duty for expensive properties. A cut to the top rate of income tax. Tweaks to the child tax credit plan. More lower earners out of income tax.
And then, when he sat down, people started to notice that there was one new thing in there after all. Age related allowances would be "simplified", Osborne said – a cynical, Brownite euphemism he will one day regret if he isn't already. If there had been the usual scattershot of news, journalists may not have focused on it so mercilessly, but it was the only thing in the Budget no-one had heard before.
It was a case-study in poor public relations, from a government composed of men who were birthed from the PR machine, like Keanu Reeves in the Matrix. All the good stuff (bottom of income tax for the Lib Dems, top for the Tories) had already been eaten up over the weekend. They might as well have framed the policy in that lavender colour old women like so much and advertised it after the Midsommer Murders. It was as cack-handed a political move as a government could make. As the icing on the cake, it was all aimed squarely at the demographic most likely to vote at election time.
And that's not even to mention the 50p top rate tax. Labour was pleased enough with the decision when it was justified by tax cuts for those on low incomes. By the time they could frame a message around tax cuts for millionaires and cash grabs on pensioners, they had to be whipped to prevent them purring. The government's coup against itself was so successful, in fact, that Ed Miliband had a powerful session at the despatch box.
By the end of the week, polls showed the public trusted Osborne an awful lot less than this time last year. But still more than Ed Balls.