George Eustice: Coalition sniping weakens Budget

Recent weeks have seen feverish speculation and open argument about what should be contained in next week's Budget, which underlines one of the inherent challenges of running a coalition Government.

George Eustice: Coalition sniping weakens Budget
George Eustice: Coalition sniping weakens Budget

Traditionally, the contents of the Budget were kept secret right up until the moment they were delivered on the floor of the house.

In the Labour years, there was a growing trend towards trailing speculation about some, but not all, of the Budget's contents (although Tony Blair famously complained that Gordon Brown wouldn't even share the budget with him before the day.)

On Budget day, the Government holds all the cards. Working as head of press in opposition, it was one of the days I dreaded most. There are speculative stories in the run up to the day into which you can't break. On the day itself, after the Chancellor has delivered his speech, the entire press gallery in the House of Commons empties to go for a background briefing with a Treasury official so no-one stays to see the leader of the opposition's speech.

We used to have a whole room of number crunchers to wade through the figures and tables throughout the afternoon. Periodically, someone would get excited because they thought they had found a chink in the armour, only to find it was not new after all. At the end of the process, I would go around the lobby with the same message and arguments with which I started the day.

George Osborne relishes Budget day and his attention to detail combined with his political nous means he will always perform well. But he will not have chosen to have weeks of public argument about which taxes should or should not be cut in the run up to his Budget. As I have written previously in PRWeek, leaks are debilitating to any government so both parties in the coalition should work hard to create a space where they can hold open and frank discussions in private. The deliberate leaking of letters by certain Liberal Democrats that put the wiring of coalition discussion on public display has been counter-productive to their case.

George Eustice is Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth and a former press secretary to David Cameron.

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