Budget 1999: Backbench Reaction - Acclaim from Labour ranks
Wednesday 10 March 1999
"What a week," said Alice Mahon, a left-wing Labour MP. "First the ramblers and right-to-roam, then Michael Howard going, and then this Budget. It's like Christmas."
The increases in pensions and the fuel bonus of pounds 100 to help pensioners' winter heating bills were seen as the most popular of the Chancellor's give-aways. MPs who had found it difficult to defend the Government's record in their constituencies said they were looking forward to going home. "It shows Gordon Brown has listened to the party. It's a very redistributive Budget," said another Labour left-winger.
One source close to the Treasury team said the Chancellor had paid for the pounds 4bn give-away by keeping to tough spending limits in the first two years. "It's payback week," she said. Ministers as well as humble backbenchers were stun-ned by the number of surprises in the Budget package.
"We were sitting there wondering what he was going to do next. It was one bonus after another," said a ministerial aide.
Nigel Griffiths, the former trade and industry minister, said: "It's Gordon showing that the compassion that drew him into the Labour Party shines as bright as ever."
As the Chancellor announced the 10p rate of tax and a 1p cut in the basic rate to 22p, a senior minister leant across to his colleague and said that William Hague might as well go home. "What can he say? He can wave the white flag and say, `I'm joining the Labour Party'."
As the Tory leader replied by accusing the Government of putting up the tax burden, Labour MPs went off to the tea-rooms to celebrate. Ann Keen, a former community nurse and now ministerial aide to Frank Dobson, the Health Secretary, was delighted by the additional spending for hospital accident and emergency units, which would help to tackle the logjams for patients.
"This Budget recognises for the first time that there is a link between poverty and ill-health. It's a Budget for children and for families. It will go down very well in our constituencies," she said. Labour MPs said the Budget was the foundation for victory at the next election.
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