Podcast #19: The unravelling Budget 2012?

This is, it's now clear, George Osborne's least politically astute Budget. It will be remembered as the year in which the 50p rate forcing the top one per cent to pay their fair share was replaced by the 'granny tax', stripping working pensioners of income tax relief. That strikes the majority of the public as fundamentally unfair.

It didn't have to be like this. Part of the problem was the media management of the Budget – the practice of leaking stories out in the days preceding it, in order to ensure government control over the news agenda for as long as possible. By the time it got to Budget day there was only bad news left. So the journalists reported the bad news.

But this Budget's cardinal sin, underreported so far, is its lack of real plans to get the economy moving again. The word 'growth' was mentioned just eight times in this year's Budget statement (compared to 23 times last year). This is no coincidence, for the chancellor had much less room for manoeuvre than he might have hoped. An anticipated extra £10 billion of cash to spend because the government had had to borrow less than anticipated turned out to be nothing more than a miserable £1 billion. So Osborne had very little wiggle room. His political tone was forced to resort to midterm rhetoric about Britain "earning its way" to recovery.

In the Commons chamber watching Osborne unveil the Budget on Wednesday, it was clear that the chancellor was becoming more adept at delivering this kind of speech. But what was more noticeable was the mood of the backbenchers sitting behind him. The Tories, loyally 'hear-hearing' their support at all the appropriate moments, did not seem nearly as happy as the Liberal Democrats. The junior coalition party's cheering as they sought to take credit for the raised personal allowance to £9,025 was obviously orchestrated. Still, it felt like they were on the whole chirpiest of all. On tax issues, the Lib Dems are having the most influence. Whether they will get the credit for it come the general election is another matter.