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Daily catch-up: this week’s Budget could be the last chance to decide the election

Plus a reminder of when Tolkien’s Middle-earth was desperately uncool

John Rentoul
Monday 16 March 2015 09:31

1. Terrific picture of the elaborate jousting between Ed Balls and George Osborne on the Andrew Marr show yesterday.

Balls tried to get Osborne to shake hands on his proposal for a head-to-head debate between the two of them, but as they shook Osborne added a string of provisos, opt-outs and conditions. Watch here. The transcript is here.

I think two predictions can be made about the Budget with confidence. One is that it will take from the rich and give to those on middle to low incomes. That has been the Conservatives’ weakness all along. It is what Norman Lamont did in the 1992 pre-election Budget, and it is what Osborne will do on Wednesday. The other is that the path of deficit reduction for the next five years will be tweaked so that it avoids comparison with the level, as a share of national income, of the 1930s, as I wrote two weeks ago.

It was interesting to hear Balls try out some of Labour’s lines in response to these possible changes on Pienaar’s Politics yesterday. He was asked: “Would that make it tougher for you to accuse him of being an austerity fetishist as we run into this election?”

“It would be a great irony, if George Osborne in the last Budget before a general election, decided to back off his commitment to his £23bn surplus, which of course would mean a rise in the national debt compared to how it would otherwise be, it would mean higher debt.”

Needs a bit of work, that line, as Balls’s plan means higher debt.

2. Labour and the Liberal Democrats spent the weekend fine-tuning their election promises. But do any of the parties understand how to deliver them? Sir Michael Barber’s new book, How To Run a Government, distils his experience running the Delivery Unit for Tony Blair and the Education Roadmap in Pakistan: we had a preview in The Independent on Sunday.

3. The Top 10 this week was Albums By Actors. I had no idea that Leonard Nimoy’s second album featured a song called “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins”, from 1967, with what must be one of the very worst music videos ever made. Thanks to Omer Lev for broadening my cultural hinterland.

4. Always seeking to be open-minded, I rehearsed the counter-factual to my assumption that Labour will lose support relative to the Conservatives between now and polling day in my column in The Independent on Sunday. I found it alarmingly plausible that, however Osborne might try to fight it in the Budget, this election might be a re-run of the last, in which the Tories lost ground during the campaign because voters were put off by austerity and attracted by the Labour brand values of jobs and public services.

5. This, via Ian Leslie, is very silly: Dalek Relaxation Tape.

6. And finally, thanks to Moose Allain again for this:

“Seeking my 80 year old dad’s permission before watching PG films.”

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