Thursday, March 22, 2007

 

Brown Budget Little more then Brown Electioneering

This was certainly the best speech I've ever heard Gordon Brown deliver. It wittily defused the Turnbull accusations, it pre-empted Cameron attacks and it relentlessly rolled out the formidable record of this formidable politician. And...er... that was it. More or less. The Lawsonesque surprise revelation of a 2p cut in the standard rate of income tax fooled few; his abolition of the 10p starting band virtually cancelled out the benefits which might accrue(Incidentally, I thought BBC political editor a bit too keen, though, to condemn a 'trick' budget).

Even the pro Labour Guardian had to admit that the average gain will only be £1 a week and the lowest paid will suffer most from the removal of the lowest tax band- see also this report. The main purpose of the budget, of course, which had little room for either give-aways or take-aways, was political. Brown was aiming at two audiences. Foremost was the the Labour Party, especially the group behind him, Labour MPs, the highest profile element in Labour's electoral college. They loved Gordon's barnstorming performance and howled their support throughout his hour long self advertisement. Their votes are now safely locked up Union members and ordinary party members will also have been warmed by his reprise of a remarkable economic record as they shuffle around mean streets delivering leaflets for the upcoming local elections.

The second major audience was the general public- the voters. Polls show the Tories 12 points in front, 15 if Brown goes head to head against Cameron. But a strong economy has a huge influence on the way voters finally cast their vote. There is nothing like low unemployment and low inflation to encourage the naturally conservative instincts of most voters. One has also to recall that at the same stage in his surge to power, Blair's lead was 20 points- and the voting system has a built in bias in favour of Labour as it is. Brown knows that reminding us how solid the economy has been is a sure-fire way of shoring up some of the support lost through Blair's foolish Iraq adventure.

On balance I'd have said the day was Gordon's but the combative way Cameron picked up the challenge when answering Brown's speech(I'm never clear why it has to be the Leader of the Opposition and not the Shadow Chancellor who does this)was impressive. He refused to be wrong footed by the tax cut but instantly laid into the chicanery of it and delivered a highly creditable virtually extempore response. The next election will be quite a contest.

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