PBR in depth: A vintage show from Brown

Link: Pre-Budget special report

There was a blizzard of figures and a host of micro-economic measures to help regions, small businesses and medium-sized firms.

But as ever with Brown – the devil was in the detail.

On page 24 of the Budget Red Book, the Treasury compares borrowing projections between March’s Budget and now, and it reveals there are plans to borrow an extra £29bn over the next five years.

And despite the layers of statistics, more statistics, VAT tinkering, loan guarantees and changes to business taxes, even his chief aide Ed Balls could not deny this unpalatable truth.

And shadow chancellor Michael Howard knew it.

The Tory MP was in top form – he’s always at his best being vindictive and vituperative.

For the first time since the 1997 landslide that brought new Labour in power and the chancellor into 11 Downing Street, Brown was vulnerable.

No amount of Scottish bluster and bravado could hide it – he was at the mercy of events like so many Treasury chiefs before him.

For more than five years his cultivated image of a ‘prudent Son of the Manse’ had made him appear in full control – impregnable, omniscient and omnipotent.

But from this afternoon, Brown is just another all too human politician.

If world events and economic growth take a nosedive, all his estimates and spending promises will collapse about his ears. He will be left with an unpalatable choice of either increasing borrowing and raising taxes with all the dire consequences they involve or eating his Budget promises and slashing spending on essential public services.

If the economic storm abates and growth and tax revenues revive, he may well get away with it.

But this evening Brown was riding on a wing and a prayer and everyone at Westminster knew it.

He would never seem the same again – the iron chancellor left the Commons Chamber looking distinctly corroded and fatigued in a way he had never done before!

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