The Sketch: Omniscient budget babble is really quite refreshing

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The Independent Online

Seasoned observers note that Gordon Brown's budget is delivered on the Wednesday, reported on the Thursday, analysed for error on the Friday, and savaged in the weekend papers. An early backlash will be found below.

Seasoned observers note that Gordon Brown's budget is delivered on the Wednesday, reported on the Thursday, analysed for error on the Friday, and savaged in the weekend papers. An early backlash will be found below.

But first: David Blunkett's bitch. This splendid creature spent the middle section of the Budget gazing adoringly at Tony Blair from the floor of the House. Suddenly her admiration took a different form: she rolled slowly over, spreading all four legs and arching her neck to try and nibble the sole of the Prime Minister's shoe. Mr Blair hasn't seen such a display of complete submission since the Blair Babes obliged him in 1997.

Mr Brown came to the House to tell us that things were going unusually well, that his forecasts had been more reliable than anyone else's, and that Britain has enjoyed the longest period of sustained growth since the industrial revolution. It was said with such certainty that anyone would have difficulty disbelieving it. It shows how important exercise is.

Mr Brown's depiction of our New Jerusalem makes the Conservative question ever more pertinent. In Michael Howard's words: "If things are going so well, why is the Chancellor borrowing so much?"

Three years ago, Mr Howard said, the Chancellor was forecasting to borrow £30bn over the following five years; now he is saying the figure is £140bn. This year's debt figure is five times as large as he said it would be at the time of the last election.

It does dent the Chancellor's affectation of omniscience. If the Chancellor's growth forecasts were better than everyone else's, Mr Howard went on, his forecasts for revenues, the deficit and borrowings were much worse. Mr Howard's attack included the charges that the savings ratio had halved, the trade deficit was the highest since the 17th century, manufacturing output was lower than in 1997, that fewer houses were being built than at any time since 1924, and that the employment boom had been driven by half a million jobs in the public sector.

Also, he said, the promises of reform in the public service were illusory as the Chancellor's own figures were relying on £20bn worth of efficiency gains (or, as we will come to call them, cuts). This represents £100bn worth of waste since Labour came to power.

As we are British, this catalogue of failure cheered us and helped us cope with Mr Brown's optimism.

But what can we admire in our Chancellor? He has been the most successful Labour chancellor and it's true by any standards he must be praised. He tells us that when recessions used to hit the world Britain was first in, suffered most and was last to recover. This is no longer the case, he says, but it may very well be true none the less.

His plan to move back-office functions in the Civil Service away from London (possibly as far as Delhi) also deserves praise, as does his other plan to sack 40,000 civil servants. This will provide a whole parliament's worth of amusement for anyone who hasn't been sacked.

But the most engaging thing about the Chancellor has come to be his delivery. We are now used to his public performance and we can nod off in the familiar bits and emerge from 50 minutes of debt babble, growth babble, borrowing babble and departmental efficiency babble, really quite refreshed.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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