NEWS: Cuts and expenditure viewed as one make sense of the Budget

By now you will all have your own views of the Budget. Does it tighten the fiscal screw, as Chancellor Kenneth Clarke claims, or does his plan to recover pounds 7 billion by closing tax loopholes and making a dead set at fraudsters and smugglers represent a black hole in his calculations? Has he blown the next election or laid the foundations for a fifth Tory victory?

By now you will all have your own views of the Budget. Does it tighten

the fiscal screw, as Chancellor Kenneth Clarke claims, or does his plan

to recover pounds 7 billion by closing tax loopholes and making a dead

set at fraudsters and smugglers represent a black hole in his

calculations? Has he blown the next election or laid the foundations

for a fifth Tory victory?



Assuming his sums add up, I think he has been astonishingly responsible

five months before an election. No doubt this is to reinforce the

Tories’ developing electoral appeal: responsibility versus the risks of

electing a Labour government.



But all this illustrates a democratic government’s difficulties in

putting over a clear message. A tower of babel seeks to confuse the

public immediately you deliver it. What is more, politicised leakers can

be at it 24 hours before the Chancellor has uttered a word, as we saw

last week. The Government was apparently saved from total embarrassment

by the Daily Mirror’s failing to exploit its leak because it now

disdains anything of substance. Triviality rules the Fourth Estate.



My presentational interest in the Budget is, however, more personally

professional. It is no secret that, once I had got my feet under the No

10 table, I grew increasingly restive over the then current style of

Budget making. This divorced revenue from expenditure. Budgets, in

March, were then preceded by a public expenditure review published the

previous November.



As I record in my book Kill The Messenger, this meant that no sooner had

the Budget been delivered then the Government machine turned to

reviewing expenditure for the future. In July, Ministers, having lodged

exorbitant bids for higher spending, swore a Cabinet oath of loyalty to

the cause of restraint which many ignored in autumnal battles with the

Treasury. A ‘Star Chamber’ of the virtuous - Ministers who either didn’t

spend much or had agreed their budgets - was even introduced to put the

recalcitrant on the rack.



The media found this torture reporting highly diverting. They also

perpetuated the myth of a ‘cutting’ Government when all that was usually

happening was that excessive bids, as distinct from actual spending,

were being pruned. I campaigned to bring public spending round and

Budget together in one presentational package. Inertia reigned. It

couldn’t be done.



Then, in 1993, Mr Clarke suddenly brought the two together. The

preliminaries are now much more manageable and the Government’s

financing can be viewed as a whole in March. The moral of this tale for

PROs is simple: it can take the acorn of a sensible idea at least ten

years to root. Never despair.



Sir Bernard Ingham writes for the Daily Express



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