Budget Special: The Chancellor dances nude ... and he's not a pretty sight

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The Independent Online
Fatima Clarke had come to dance - and the House was full. Eyes twinkling, his mouth set in a teasing smile, the Chancellor sat beside the Prime Minister, waiting for the tambours to beat and the sitars to strum. His back benches regarded him with nervous expectation: all present had a very shrewd idea of exactly what charms had been so flimsily concealed from the tabloid press, but was it not just possible that - like the Diana video - the leaks would turn out be a hoax?

So the time came and Fatima rose. His robes fluttering around his gently undulating body, he danced a dance of well-being and wealth. Britain was "ever more prosperous and successful ... a Rolls-Royce economy, built to last". For the first time Britain had enjoyed a higher rate of growth than either France or Germany for five clear years (Germany's incorporation of an entire basket-case Stalinist nation in that time, rightly, never rates a mention).

Then Fatima swung to the samba rhythms of consumption. Consumer spending would go up by 3 per cent this year, by 4 per cent next year, a testament to "a more confident consumer". Images rose like think-bubbles from the Chancellor's head, and floated around the roof of the chamber; images of confident consumers, striding purposefully through stuffed supermarkets, images of happy businessmen pointing with determination at the expensive motors of their choice, images of gadgets and gizmos overloading the shelves of contented, ordinary working people. Certainly Fatima seemed to bear out the truth of these images - the more of his waiting whisky the Chancellor consumed, the more confident he became.

By now the belly was wobbling almost uncontrollably and the back benches were very nearly shouting "off, off, off!" Not out of excitement, I should add, but impatience. Given the level of information that we already had about the budget, waiting for the veils to fall was like waiting for your partner of 30 years to take his clothes off - not unpleasant, but hardly worth a major performance. Teresa Gorman, upstairs in the Tory overspill, was asleep and we'd all had enough of the music - it was time for the strip.

As Fatima twirled ponderously, an old tease was revealed. Just a week ago the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Willy Waldegrave (sitting smiling just behind the capacious bottom of his amiable boss) had thrown every possible Labour commitment - and a few impossible ones - into one pile and costed them as adding vast amounts to direct taxation. But actually there had been lots of money available all along! Tax relief on profit- related pay could be phased out! Tax loopholes could be closed! Ingenious accountants outfoxed! Fraud eliminated! Smugglers caught and their baccy and rum confiscated! Housing benefit cut! So there was tons of dosh available for education and health and the poor and cutting borrowing and...?

At last, the last small pieces of gauze were theatrically cast off and floated to the floor. Thresholds were duly raised. Then "this is the stage of my speech", he tantalised, "where everyone is asking themselves - are the guesses of the newspapers right?" One hand fluttered the last tiny wisp over the most interesting part of his fiscal anatomy. "And yes, Mr Deputy Speaker, I am indeed also able to reduce the basic rate of income tax by one penny." God knows, they thought, it isn't very big, but it is there. The Tory benches waved their order papers more in relief than out of arousal. Naked and sweating, Fatima sat down.

Whooosh! For an hour and a quarter the Boy Wonder on the benches opposite had been frowning, making notes, reading missives sent in by clever teenagers at computer keyboards elsewhere, and generally keying himself up for his response. A blue-blooded chap, he could appreciate some of Fatima's more sensuous moves, but his tight superhero costume was snagging, and he was increasingly anxious to perform. So when all was finally revealed, he wasn't inclined to dwell on the pleasures now visible.

One finger raised - like Superman about to soar into the night skies of Gotham City - he launched an attack of such ferocity and detail that many of us journalists thought he would end up in the gallery next to us.

It was devastating stuff. The much-vaunted extra money for the health service year on year on year? That is 0.2 per cent in year two, 0.1 per cent in year three, a fall after that. More money on education? Ah, but the small print reveals big shortfalls in money for councils, meaning large council tax increases or cuts in budgets like education. The citizens needed to wake up, yelled Boy Wonder - turn Fatima around to see what is written on her other side.

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