Budget statements are meant to mislead. Sadly, this simple truth seemed to elude many of the commentators who pored over the detailed documents released after Gordon Brown sat down last Tuesday. As the facts behind the spin began to emerge, many seemed outraged that Brown had talked of backing business, yet had actually increased the scope of employers’ national insurance contributions.
Of course, contradictions are the essence of a good Budget. Throughout the 80s, the Tories talked incessantly about reducing taxes while increasing the overall tax burden. Yet fans of Margaret Thatcher’s kitchen table economics should realise that no government can increase spending on the NHS, as New Labour has, while reducing the amount of national income it takes in tax.
None of this ever seems to feed through into the national media coverage.
Minutes after the end of the speech, the BBC’s Peter Snow was taking viewers on a virtual reality tour of ‘Budget Town’. This set the tone for the rest of the night’s (and the next morning’s) media coverage which swallowed the chancellor’s line whole. Some papers even reproduced great swathes of government press releases unedited.
But there is some comfort for those who lament the chancellor’s duplicity.
They may not be able to trust politicians or TV pundits, but they can at least trust an accountant to tell them what the Budget really means.
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