Anthony Hilton: How the Budget lost its impact

I have been wondering when it was that the annual Budget became the annual bore – and more to the point, why. What has happened to reduce the Chancellor’s golden PR platform to something of sublime indifference to the bulk of the population?

The first reason is dilution. The Budget used to be the only time people talked about the state of the economy and the need to adjust taxes. Not any more. Now there are two set pieces a year, with what used to be called the Autumn statement elevated to the pre-Budget report. Frankly there is not enough news to fill both.

Then there is detail. It is a golden rule of communication that to engage an audience, subject matter must be kept simple and doled
out with a broad brush. The Chancellor's instincts take him the other way and whole chunks of his speech go into numbing detail about policy shifts, which in the great scheme of things don't add up to very much. Great speeches are about vision, and it is a long time since there has been much of that.

Delivery comes in here too. The Chancellor on his day can deliver a rousing address, and though it is not often apparent, he can also be very funny. But give him a raft of economic data and the magic disappears. Gordon Brown's delivery does not encourage anyone to stay awake.

Deceit is the next problem. It has become a habit to put the 'good bits' in the Budget speech but leave the 'nasty bits' tucked away in the supporting documentation. The tactic may mean that the Chancellor has an easy ride in Parliament, but it undermines the credibility of what he is saying. Stealth taxes, meanwhile, have added to this impression of deceit.

The PR opportunity has been squandered because the occasion has been devalued, in every conceivable way. The Budget promises too much and delivers too little. It reeks at worst of dishonesty, and at best of lack of candour. It has become a too-trivial exercise in party posturing rather than a healthcheck for the nation.

The moral, clearly, is that PR skills on their own are a wasted asset. Ultimately, as in all branches of media, content is king.

anthony.hilton@haynet.com

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