Budget 1999: Media Coverage - Papers in a spin as leaks dried up

COME BACK Charlie Whelan, all is forgiven. As the Chancellor rose to deliver his Budget speech yesterday, the poor British public could be excused for wondering whatever happened to the Treasury's legendary purdah.

As a glance at recent newspaper stories would reveal, one of the leakiest Budgets in years has been subject to the kind of media speculation that would make even Mr Brown's former spin doctor choke on his Red Lion pint.

From the much-rumoured 10p income tax rate to the abolition of the married couple's tax allowance, press coverage over the past week has claimed an exhaustive inside knowledge of the contents of Mr Brown's red box.

Yet no one, but no one, had the most important story of all: a cut in the basic rate of income tax from 23p to 22p. Or that the new 10p rate would come into force immediately.

In the absence of Mr Whelan's previous strategy of surgical strikes on specific media targets, eager journalists were left fumbling for a good steer on topics large and small.

The media have also speculated more wildly than usual and the result is a dizzying cocktail of stories that appeared to leave Mr Brown little room to announce anything remotely new. This year's Budget has not been leaked wholesale, as Kenneth Clarke's was to The Mirror under the last government, but the ordinary newspaper reader could be forgiven for thinking it had.

The key "will-he-or-won't-he?" issues centred on abolition of the married couple's tax allowance, taxing child benefit and the introduction of a 10p basic rate of income tax.

Not surprisingly, amid the confusion, different newspapers have claimed with equal vigour stories that flatly contradict their rivals. Last weekend, The Daily Telegraph combined two key issues when it asserted that the abolition of the pounds 1.75 billion-a-year married couple's allowance (MCA) would fund the 10p starting rate. But The Independent on Sunday suggested that Tony Blair had vetoed the abolition of the MCA because it would undermine family values.

On child benefit, The Financial Times claimed that the Treasury had come up with a way of taxing it, while The Sunday Telegraph said that Mr Brown had backed off from the idea in this Budget.

The Times and Daily Telegraph were particularly off- beam, with the former claiming just last week that the Chancellor would be blown off course by a pounds 2-billion hole in revenues from smuggled cigarettes and alcohol.

Depending on which paper you read, mortgage interest tax relief may/may not be saved/scrapped, while stamp duty may be frozen or raised.

But readers of The Independent will be pleased to note that this newspaper's record was better than most. On the issue of child benefit, we reported that the taxation idea had been ditched. Similarly, we correctly warned yesterday that an energy tax on business would definitely be in the Budget.

Officially, the Treasury states that there has always been a tradition of speculative stories "many of which prove to be wildly inaccurate", a spokesman said.

One senior government source said last night that the press coverage was more haphazard than previous years, claiming that this was simply due to journalistic laziness.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
News
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
News
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television
Arts and Entertainment
art
Sport
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
football
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
fashion
News
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
news
Sport
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Customer Relations Officer

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Jemma Gent: Project Coordinator

£12 - £15 Hourly Rate: Jemma Gent: In this role you will report to the Head of...

Recruitment Genius: Evening Administrator

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established early...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable