The Budget: The green shoots diet of a man of vision

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(First Edition)

DURING the two-and-a-bit years of his Chancellorship, Norman Lamont's utterances have always proved more edible than credible.

Mr Lamont has been eating his own words almost since he first took on the job in December 1990. Repeated hallucinations that the economy was poised for imminent recovery have provided regular sustenance throughout that time.

But the Chancellor's verbal dexterity has truly come into its own since last summer. Following ancient Treasury tradition, he has attempted to present the most humiliating U-turn by any British Government since the war as a mere nudge on the tiller by a unflappable economic navigator.

Last July he lambasted the 'cut and run option' of devaluing the pound and slashing interest rates. Just three months later - and with a straight face - he remarketed the self-same option as his 'strategy for growth'.

After last April's election he spent much of the spring and summer explaining how central sterling's membership of the European exchange rate mechanism was to the Government's strategy. But three months is a very long time in politics. Shortly after Black Wednesday, Mr Lamont was telling journalists that sterling's devaluation had prompted him to sing in the bath - Oh What a Beautiful Morning] from Oklahoma], to be precise.

The ERM debacle aside, it is in predictions of economic recovery that Mr Lamont has been most wrong, most often.

In normal circumstances, the failure of reality to keep up with the rhetoric might have encouraged him to be less precise in his predictions, but the impending general election meant that the talking-up had to continue.

'Confidence is returning', he told a sceptical blue-rinsed audience at the party conference. 'The green shoots of economic spring are appearing once again'.

Mr Lamont and the Prime Minister said during the election campaign that economic recovery would be assured by a Conservative victory. Nearly a year later we are still not sure if the revival is under way.