There are many legitimate criticisms that can be made of Alistair Darling's first Budget. It was far too timid on greenery for our taste. The scale of new car taxes it heralded was far too complicated. And the higher taxes on alcohol are not so high that they will do much to discourage binge-drinking, while they may do wonders for day-trips to Calais. Our guarded response to the introduction of tests for all recipients of incapacity benefit is printed above.
To criticise the Chancellor for being boring, however, whether in his monotonal Scots presentation or in the downbeat, rather nit-picking contents of his Budget is to take negativity too far. Yes, it was a tad turgid, but boring is exactly what Mr Darling needed to be. Chancellors who treat Budget Day as a one-man stage-show may have an honoured place in our political history, but would bouncy showmanship really have been appropriate to the present mood?
Darkened by the shadow of Northern Rock, threatened by transatlantic storm-clouds, pulling up the drawbridges, the British public needed an over-cheerful Chancellor as little as they needed a new hole in their credit history. As for surprises, we have had quite enough of those recently, thank you - whether it was the latest gas bill, today's new price at the petrol pump, or the ballooning cost of a new mortgage.
Excitement, even enthusiasm, would have been quite out of place. We needed solidity, reliability, a refusal to be fazed by whatever the cruel world might hold in store. Or, as we heard no fewer than 23 times in the Budget speech, stability. To the Chancellor, Mr Alistair Boring, we say: carry on as you have started out.