OPINION: Opposition to tax rises fades into a whimper

Gordon Brown is a bit of a party-pooper. After his first Budget he abandoned the centuries-old tradition of holding a post-Budget party at Number 11 on the evening of the big day.

Even though I love to party, Brown had my full support for this decision - indeed it was me who suggested it. At the end of the evening of that historic day when the first editions of the newspapers dropped, we had a few problems with the story about a decision on pension funds.

Now I do have some knowledge about pensions but we needed the Treasury pointy-heads to explain some details. Unfortunately, they were all a bit worse for wear celebrating the triumph of the first Labour Budget for 20 years.

These days there is no celebrating and the traditional party now takes place later in the week when Budget stories have died down. This year the whole Treasury team were on red alert for the onslaught of the employers, who would soon wake up to the fact that it wasn't just you and me paying a little more for the NHS but that they were expected to cough up, too.

Rightly, Brown was much more concerned with an attack from the employers than from the Tories, and, sure enough, the CBI and other employer organisations soon began to complain that they had to face a 'tax on jobs'. Why should they have to pay for the NHS, they bleated.

The Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph did their best to join in the attack, complaining about Brown's raid on business and the middle-classes. With Brown off to Washington for the IMF and World Bank meetings, Downing Street braced itself for an onslaught from the Sunday papers.

Blair may have been nervous but Brown had done his homework, with focus groups and private polling assuring him that the country was prepared to pay higher taxes.

The Sunday Telegraph had, of course, commissioned its own poll hoping to show the opposite.

To the paper's horror, the poll showed not just support from all voters but from Tory voters, too. If the public were prepared to pay more then they would hardly have sympathy with big business complaining about paying a few bob more.

Business leaders were forced to shut up, especially as the Treasury had prepared nuggets for the Labour Party to hit back with. The CBI had recently launched a campaign about how business loses £11bn each year due to sickness. It was pointed out that if business coughed up the relatively small sum of £4bn, it would help to cut the days lost due to ill health. I bet the CBI spin doctor who came up with that particular campaign is off sick.

The fact is that despite all the pre-spinning of the Budget, what happens after is still much more important. The widely-held view is that the Budget normally goes down very well in the media at first and then when the hacks have had time to read the small print it gets worse for the Chancellor. It didn't happen this time as the papers took sides immediately.

The Sun did not like it but that will not bother Brown. He will remember when they opposed his decision not to replace the Royal Yacht and changed their minds when it was revealed that the majority backed his decision.

With The Mirror breathing down their necks, The Sun simply can't afford to be out of step with its readers.

Brown's decision to raise taxes and to make a virtue of it seems to have worked but, at the end of the day, we will only really know what the voters think after the next election. I expect Brown still to be Chancellor or even Prime Minister.

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