One person who emerged from the Budget presentation with his reputation enhanced was the Deputy Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle. People liked the plain-speaking way that he battled to keep the braying and barracking to a minimum. His presence also prompted a question that is asked almost every year – why the Deputy Speaker, not the Speaker?
There is no rule that prevents the Speaker from presiding on Budget Day; the last Speaker but two, Bernard Weatherill, was in the chair for the 1989 budget – but there is a tradition favouring the senior deputy, which originates from the troubled reign of King Charles I. In 1641, the Commons defiantly decided that all new taxes would have to be passed by a newly created Committee of Ways of Means. For the next 326 years, the committee chairman presided over the Commons in the Speaker’s absence. The committee was abolished in 1967, but the senior Deputy Speaker still has the title Chairman of Ways and Means. After the Budget Speech, there is a formality under which the financial measures announced by the Chancellor, like today’s cut in the price of beer, become law. It is known as a Ways and Means Resolution.
That is why Lindsay Hoyle’s Lancashire brogue, rather than John Bercow’s London twang, was heard telling MPs to pipe down.
The tag line that George Osborne gave yesterday’s speech was “A Budget for an Aspiration Nation.” If you wonder where you have heard it before, it had its first outing in David Cameron’s speech to the Conservative annual conference last October. It was claimed by Cameron’s people that the Prime Minister thought that one up for himself.
There was a moment when George Osborne put partisan rivalries aside to praise the Stoke on Trent Labour MP Tristram Hunt, for campaigning on behalf of the struggling ceramics industry, which is to get a new tax break. The Chancellor was not in the Commons barely an hour earlier when the same Tristram Hunt, not knowing what was coming, told his fellow MPs, with great confidence: “Today’s shambolic, reactionary Budget will put the Labour party another step closer to government.” Spoken too soon.
There was an interesting story on the front of yesterday’s Times suggesting that files held by police intelligence were kept so secret that the secrecy inadvertently helped the likes of Jimmy Saville to escape detection. It may of course have been that secrecy was thought necessary to prevent the contents being flogged to journalists, particularly those working for the company that owns The Times.
There is understandable curiosity about how Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce are faring during their early days in prison. The first story to cross the prison walls was a tale told to The Sun about Huhne, who was said to have faced threat from fellow prisoners and taunts from a prison officer, delivered over a tannoy that does not exist in reality. His lover, Carina Trimingham, denounced this tale as drivel. If yesterday’s Daily Mail is correct, Huhme is more popular among other convicts than he ever was among fellow inmates of the House of Commons. The fraudster Eddie Davenport, who is banged up in the same jail, is quoted as saying: “Everybody feels rather sorry for him, plus he has also become a bit of a hero figure….Everybody wants to have their picture taken with him… You could describe it as male bonding.”
And Vicky Pryce is keeping busy at the open prison in Kent that is her temporary home, to judge form a snatched photograph of her with a large bundle of papers under her arm.