Opinion: Vote Blair get Brown? That's what we want

Budget day is never the time to assess the electorate's real view of a chancellor's achievements, and neither is the day after. But last week, 'the day after' was billed a turning point in the general election campaign.

The photocall, which has been the topic of Westminster's chattering classes ever since, was trailed well in advance.

It was made clear that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown would be taking part in a joint 'event'. The problem was that press hacks weren't invited.

This is because this was to be one of those awful 'poster unveilings' solely designed for TV pictures.

I should point out here that ITV News political editor Nick Robinson was once a keen Tory student activist and, typically, tried to spoil the big event. But, more importantly, all non-TV journalists were seething at their exclusion from the stunt, and gleefully reported the whole thing as 'a disaster for Labour'.

I'm not so sure. What it did achieve, for a few days at least, was to put the economy back on centre stage, just where Labour's election strategists now want it. The only purpose of these events is to get your main message across, and there is little doubt that Labour did that in spades. It simply wants voters to think that, under the Tories, spending on health and education will be put in jeopardy.

How this is portrayed is irrelevant. Take, for example, the Tories' brilliant 'tax bombshell' ad, which was even more dishonest than Labour's latest scam. At least the latter's £35bn claim was taken from Tory plans, while the 'tax bombshell' was invented by Central Office.

Moreover, Alan Milburn's original claim that the election could not be won by 'screaming louder and louder about our achievements in the past' (meaning that the Chancellor's economic record should be ignored) has thankfully been long forgotten.

The measures that the Chancellor announced in his Budget may add up to very little, but what was more important was Brown's performance at the dispatch box. The question that voters will ask on election day is: do we trust this man to run the economy? Judging from the polls both before and after his big day, the answer will be a resounding 'yes'.

That's why shadow chancellor Oliver Letwin never referred to Brown in his official post-Budget broadcast - all his remarks were addressed to Blair. Whatever happened to the Saatchi tagline of 'Vote Blair get Brown'? That's been quietly ditched, of course.

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