It's still a thrill to walk into a packed House of Commons on Budget Day. It has been quite a journey for us. We had to make our way across a desolate industrial landscape, weaving round the double-parked police buses, past the urine-stained financial sector, up through the ruins of the banking system and there we suddenly were, in the low, dense hubbub of the democratic chamber where it all began.
On the benches below, the key players. The big bruising Prime Minister (the men in white coats had better be SAS-trained when they come for him). The dull, dignified Chancellor. And Ed Balls pointing his chin left and right, so slow, so measured. Dashing David Cameron looked worried (but his hair was having a good day at the back of his head). George Osborne laughing harshly, PPS Desmond Swayne in magnificently misjudged sideburns – he looked like Flashman's fag. And in the sudden silence, what did we hear? The Chancellor rose and spoke to us from the wreckage of the economy. His speech was dull, naturally, and sagged from page three, but in its way it was as unexpected as Churchill's, "fight them on the beaches".
Apparently we have a great opportunity staring at us. We must seize it! The coming boom – we must prepare for it! His audience hardly knew how to express itself. But he insisted there are 20 years of world growth ahead and Britain is infinitely better off than Europe, Japan, America (the debt, the inflation, the unemployment they have!) The British economy was always strong under Labour, but now we have something more impressive: underlying strength. Yes, and 2 billion barrels of oil from the North Sea that Mr Darling is going to get out for us, to pay for a million jobs and 3 per cent growth and a fall in carbon to 1990 levels.
Tories gasped, hissed and laughed. "Oh no we won't!" They enjoyed themselves immensely.
The Chancellor's key line played off the Jim Callaghan view that gets played on newsclips: "You can't cut your way out of a recession." All civilised opinion now agrees with that proposition (which isn't to say it is correct). And Labour's core values (hating Tories, loving ministerial cars) will see the country through to a Disneyworld of prosperity.
David Cameron's job isn't to be positive about any of this. Luckily, there is much to be negative about. He reached deep into his formal economic training to describe the Chancellor's medium-term strategy. It was... Inhuman. Pathetic. Rubbish. Ridiculous. Utterly useless. I think we can guess which way he'll be voting at the next election. It was a proper piece of battery, by the way. Almost prime ministerial.
Gordon Brown used his smile during Cameron's contribution and adjusted his cuffs to show what he thought of the critique. Sometimes he turned to Yvette Cooper on his left or the Chancellor on his right with a gesture and a remark. Neither looked at him.
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