22 March 2007

Gordon Brown's Budgets 1997-2007

The Chancellor on Budget DayThe Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, yesterday buried his last Budget under a waving of order papers, a cut in the basic rate of income tax and Mr Brown's Prime Ministerial ambitions.

The first of Gordon Brown's Budgets was born in 1997, the offspring of Mr Brown's first love, a shy and retiring model of fiscal rectitude called Prudence, and the golden economic legacy passed on to the Chancellor thanks to either (a) Conservative predecessor Kenneth Clarke's brilliant economic management or (b) the change in monetary policy forced on the nation following the UK's humiliating ejection from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1992 and the country having finally got over the Lawson-boom-induced recession of the early-90s*.

Year-on-year Mr Brown and Prudence set about the business of running the economy in the manner of a respectable Victorian couple. Each year Prudence would lie back and think of Adam Smith while Gordon whispered sweet nothings about post-neoclassical endogenous growth theory into her ear and each year she would give birth to a new model of fiscal rectitude. Like any proud father, Mr Brown celebrated each new birth by detailing the many fine qualities of his offspring to anyone within earshot, in speeches which have recently been released on tape by the National Health Service as a cheap alternative to Mogadon.

Hardened in his moral certainty by the encouragement of his inamorata and the praise of the International Monetary Fund, each day Mr Brown would stride through the streets of Britain in his top hat and frock coat, unmoved by the piteous cries of impoverished single mothers, the hideous smell of the non-functional lavatories of Britain's decaying schools and the disturbing sight of nurses flogging their kidneys to support themselves. All the while he satisfied himself that he was merely seeking to bring his budgets up properly by keeping to the spending limits imposed by his predecessor Mr Clarke, apparently unaware that - as Mr Clarke welll knew - the only tight restrictions members of the Major government could be expected to stick to were usually made of PVC and metal and provided by specialist shops in Soho.

What it was that softened the Chancellor's heart we may never know. Perhaps it was a visitation by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, perhaps merely the prospect of Labour being turfed out of office by all those public-sector workers still with strength enough in their bodies to drag themselves to the polling booths. Whatever the cause, by the year 2000 Mr Brown, whilst still paying lip service to his relationship with Prudence, had begun an affair with the charming Charity.

Under Charity's influence the Chancellor abandoned his old ways. Eager to impress his new love he lavished his money on the good causes he had once passed by. As their affair became more and more passionate Mr Brown threw caution to the wind, fathering a series of bouncing budgets, the apple of every teacher's and doctor's eye, while borrowing ever more heavily to fund his new, and expensive, devotion to Charity.

Yet, however delighted Charity may at first have been, all was not well. However much Mr Brown spent, he was always met with cries for more, while about him those who had once praised him for his severe and upright manner now lambasted him for his fond indulgence.

It is perhaps fitting that, in what is expected to be one of his last acts as Chancellor, Mr Brown chose to set Charity to one side - just as he had once done Prudence - choosing to impress the nation with a cut in basic-rate income tax while bamboozling them with fiscal jiggery-pokery, as he fathered the last of his Budgets with a new love, Political Self Interest.

Gordon Brown's Budgets are survived by Gordon Brown's Premiership Ambitions, George Osborne's hopes of moving into long trousers and a lot of puzzled economists staring at the Chancellor's figures and exclaiming "Whothewhatnow?"

*(readers are invited to select the reason they find best accords with their political prejudices)