Budget 1999: Even the Cabinet come out winners

The Budget and You
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The Independent Online
UNLIKE KEN CLARKE and his eminently taxable tipple of whisky, no one could ever accuse Gordon Brown of devising a Budget with his own mineral water drinking habits in mind.

However, no cabinet minister is an offshore, tax-free island and even the sober Mr Brown and his colleagues will feel the personal impact of the contents of his little red box.

Though John Prescott may proudly proclaim that he is still working class, the average cabinet minister's salary of pounds 90,000 means that they would have been the first against the wall for any pot shots at the middle classes. Soaking the rich was never an option for Mr Brown, but his complex tax and benefits changes will give most middle-income households little more than the equivalent of a vigorous rub down with a wet flannel.

From the Prime Minister down, the Cabinet will be hit by a range of Budgetary assaults on Middle Britain, particularly the scrapping of mortgage tax relief and the married couple's allowance.

But this will be more than offset by the surprise cut in the basic tax rate to 22p, a move that will benefit the higher rate taxpayers more than most.

As the announcements were aimed largely at parents of young children and pensioners, however, few ministers will be singing in the streets about large boosts to their income.

In line with New Labour's more puritanical streak, not a single senior minister smokes cigarettes, let alone the Havanas beloved of Cuddly Ken, so the 17.5p price hike on a packet of 20 will involve not a shred of self-sacrifice. Drinking is, of course, a much more acceptable vice and Robin Cook, Mo Mowlam and Alan Milburn must be delighted by Mr Brown's decision to freeze duty on wine, beer and spirits.

So on the whole, the impact on ministers has been neutral or even beneficial. Bearing in mind that all political careers end in failure, even those in the Cabinet who are in danger of being fired will be comforted by one of Mr Brown's less headline-grabbing moves - to help the over-50s move off the dole into work.

Tony Blair

With three children, Nicholas, Kathryn and Euan, and a QC wife who is earning up to pounds 200,000 a year, the Prime Minister will be relieved that child benefit will not be taxed this year at least. But the Blairs' beloved silver Ford Galaxy people carrier will be hit by the new pounds 100 charge being levied for tax discs on large cars.

Robin Cook

"Cookie the Nookie", as the tabloids dubbed him, has recently done his own bit to recast Labour's definition of family values. However, with grown-up children, the Budget will have a neutral impact on his affairs. The Cabinet's best-known gambler will welcome the cut in football pools duty and raise a wee dram to the spirits duty freeze.

Mo Mowlam

With a husband who earns more than pounds 120,000 a year as a merchant banker, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland enjoys one of the highest joint incomes among cabinet members. With no children of school age, however, she will lose out because of the abolition of the married couple's tax allowance.

Gordon Brown

As a childless single man, Mr Brown will receive no direct personal benefit from his "Budget for families". Sadly for his girlfriend Sarah Macauley, the scrapping of the married couple's tax allowance means he has even less incentive to tie the knot. John Prescott will have to make another conference speech telling him to get a move on and propose.

Margaret Beckett

The Beckett household currently benefits from the taxpayer to the tune of more than pounds 120,000 a year as the Leader of the House of Commons pays her husband Leo to work as her secretary. However, as the owner of a flat in central London, she will be hit by both the scrapping of Miras and by the rise in stamp duty should she wish to sell up.

Alan Milburn

As the youngest parent in the Cabinet, the rap-loving 40-year-old Chief Secretary to the Treasury is famed for pushing a pram around Whitehall and at party conferences. Like Mr Blair, he will still be able to claim child benefit but, as both he and his doctor wife are higher-rate taxpayers, they will not be helped by the new children's tax credit.