Don't believe the PR hype, warns Liam Fox in Edelman Budget debate

A Chancellor would be foolish to believe the PR hype about how their Budget was received, former Conservative defence secretary Liam Fox MP said in a panel debate on Thursday to dissect George Osborne's Budget.

Iain Duncan Smith: Getting excited during George Osborne's Budget speech (pic credit: PA Wire)
Iain Duncan Smith: Getting excited during George Osborne's Budget speech (pic credit: PA Wire)
Fox told PRWeek:"You would be very foolish, if you were a politician, to believe that your budget was successful because it was received well in the short term. And if you believe that the PR measure is the measure of success of your Budget, then you’re in for a very, very bad time."

Fox recounted Margaret Thatcher’s principle of a ‘vindication moment’ in which governments try to carry out measures shortly after winning an election in order to achieve vindication before they next face the voters.

He was joined by former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling and Sky’s business presenter Ian King in a debate chaired by Edelman chairman Lord Myners at Edelman’s UK headquarters.

PRWeek asked the panel for its thoughts on the presentation of Wednesday’s Budget and whether Iain Duncan Smith’s fist-pumping moment during the welfare section of Osborne’s speech would prove divisive with the public.

King said Osborne’s speech, except for a swipe at Boris Johnson over Heathrow, was light on jokes but heavy on small print.

He added: "You don’t remember that many Budgets," while highlighting three from the past 45 years, including Nigel Lawson’s Budget of 1988.

Darling said the reason Lawson’s Budget was memorable was not just for its effect at the time but for its long-term impact as a precursor to a decade of prosperity.

He joked: "It’s hard to judge anyone’s reputation until long after they have gone. Certainly in my sphere, people only start being nice about you when they’re absolutely sure you’re not coming back."

Fox suggested that Duncan Smith’s energetic support for Osborne, which was immediately mocked on social media, was a manufactured moment.

"I find it hard to believe that Iain... was having a spontaneous moment of emotion," said Fox, referring to the lengthy negotiations between Duncan Smith’s department and the Treasury in the lead-up to the Budget.

In a wide-ranging debate on some of the headline measures in the Budget and their likely impact, presentation was touched on several times.

During a discussion over the measure to abolish certain categories of non-dom status, Darling said: "You have to have a tax regime which is fair and which is seen to be fair." In another section on the policy of increasing the inheritance tax threshold, Fox said: "Inheritance tax isn’t just a change that is being made; it is the signal that it sends."

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