Politics Explained

Whatever happened to the idea of pre-Budget secrecy?

John Rentoul looks at the history of ‘purdah’ and outlines how much of the Budget has already been announced

Sunday 24 October 2021 21:30
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<p>Loose lips: the chancellor is on TV again </p>

Loose lips: the chancellor is on TV again

In the old days there was such a thing as pre-Budget purdah, a sacred tradition strictly observed by ministers and civil servants. For weeks before a Budget, the chancellor would disappear from public view and any questions from journalists, or from MPs in the House of Commons, about tax or public spending would be answered by the questioner being told they would have to “wait for the Budget”.

The idea was that this would create space for the Treasury to consider the policy options in a calm and confidential atmosphere, without exposing the chancellor to lobbying from politicians and interest groups.

That tradition has long gone. The idea that it would protect the chancellor from lobbying was always silly, and the idea of a protected space has been encroached on by the demands of politics. In the arms race between leaks and formal government announcements, Gordon Brown accelerated the issue of Treasury news releases in the days before a Budget that would say something like “the chancellor is expected to announce in next week’s Budget…”

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