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Letter from the editor

THE Chancellor's annual Budget speech is one of those events that mark the newspaper year. In the diary for months, lots of build-up, everyone from staff to contacts to friends claiming to know what he will say, then the silence while he speaks, followed by a mad, exhilarating dash to produce the paper on time, to dissect, explain, analyse every single thing he said.

This year, as in previous years, The Independent did not produce one newspaper for the morning after the Budget but effectively two: a 20-page section poring over Gordon Brown's words; and our normal "non-Budget" paper, full of the other news that day. It was frantic and hair-raising - not least when I was told, with less than an hour to go before deadline, that our computers were finding it hard to cope with the information rush and were slowing down - but we got there.

While the Budget is a fixture in the calendar it is also one of the ways in which a newspaper can be judged. How did we do? How did our coverage compare with our rivals? The answer to both, I am delighted to say, was brilliantly. No obvious howlers, no gaping holes, no sense of getting the balance wrong. Mind, it was touch and go. When Mr Brown sat down we realised that thanks to the insistent prodding of his anonymous "friends" in Whitehall we had schemed in page 4 of the Budget section for pensions, ready for a major announcement. But, of pensions, barely a whisper. It was that sort of Budget: a lot of nudges and winks beforehand but little to set the pulse racing on the day.

ONE AREA where the Chancellor did send the right sort of signal was the environment - but not to the satisfaction of all our readers. On the morning after the Budget, one reader rang in to complain that Mr Brown must have something against tall people. I'm not against environmentally friendly cars, he said, but I can't pack a 6ft 4in body into an eco-friendly Mini Metro. The call made me realise what it must like to be the Chancellor, confronted by every minority interest going, lobbied on all fronts, constantly reminded by anxious civil servants to examine all the pitfalls. At least in a newspaper, we can try and address most people's views and problems but to actually take decisions that directly affect how many pounds they have in their pockets and even what car they should drive, must be hell - yet Mr Brown gives the impression of being in his element. Hmmm...

THE BIG news of the week was that the Government has now pronounced that men are no longer the official family breadwinners. This realisation, revealed in The Independent - we regarded it as so important as to put it at right of the top of the front-page in our "hamper" across seven columns - should herald a bright new dawn for all working mothers, of which I am one. Yet, what did we see in the Budget speech just hours previously? Very little to improve the lot of women struggling on their own to raise children and to hold down jobs. It is all very well for a male- dominated Government to notice a social phenomenon that many of us have known for years. Whether it will actually translate into meaningful reform of a system that still reflects a bygone age, when the man went to work and the little woman stayed at home is quite a different matter. I wait to be impressed, Tony and Gordon.