Judge and Jury: Brown’s dazzling PR performance blinded us to the Budget’s reality - Chancellor Brown’s Budget speech had tax experts cheering its fairness - until they scrutinised Treasury press releases and spotted more than a to

By any standards, Gordon Brown’s third Budget speech was a tour de force: passionate, witty, and delivered with superb timing. The accountants with whom I watched the speech were visibly moved by the power of the pronouncements.

By any standards, Gordon Brown’s third Budget speech was a tour de

force: passionate, witty, and delivered with superb timing. The

accountants with whom I watched the speech were visibly moved by the

power of the pronouncements.



However, following its delivery, the speech became more remarkable for

its obvious attempt at media manipulation than the probity of its

content.



After Brown sat down last Tuesday afternoon and the 70 or so press

statements were released it soon became clear that this was a Budget of

smoke and mirrors.



Apart from wit and timing, the Chancellor included other less reputable

presentational techniques, such as only telling half the story. Take the

10p starting rate of income tax. Only from reading the press releases

could you glean that with it would come the abolition of the 20p rate,

which in effect made the tax reduction non-existent for all but those on

extremely low wages. It was the same story with National Insurance

contributions. Here Brown borrowed the old retailing trick of raising

prices in advance of a sale. He had already announced that contributions

were to rise, so any reduction was marginal. But the media lapped it up

at face value.



Even with the modern trend towards short Budget speeches of just an

hour, the newspapers have very little time to do anything other than

fill their columns with direct reportage if they are to hit deadlines.

Scope for interpretation, particularly when there are so many press

releases to go through, is limited. The Chancellor clearly banked on the

print media taking his speech at face value. It was only the following

day that the penny dropped. And then there were other announcements to

focus on. This was well crafted media management.



Result: a highly polished, inspirational performance on the day that had

not only MPs but the country at large cheering the Chancellor on,

coupled with carefully targeted follow-up announcements designed to

throw would-be budget analysts off the scent. However, Brown probably

has two more Budget speeches to make.



Next time, commentators ought to scrutinise the small print of the press

releases before chorusing blind approval.



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in