LEADER – Wanted: an honest Budget

The chances of such a performance are virtually nil, of course, but it is fun to imagine how it might sound.

Take, for example, the expected announcement that ‘basic rate of income tax’ will be cut from 23% to 22%. Not that it will be really new. Gordon Brown promised the cut last year. Most workers on average earnings actually pay ‘tax’ at the rate of 33%. Tax specialists know the extra 10% is national insurance. But the distinction is lost on the individual who sees a third of their relevant earnings taken away by the same smiling chancellor who claims to be cutting their tax bill to 22%.

Tory chancellors were no more honest. Indeed ministers of both main parties have been persistently tricky with official figures. How many times does ‘new money’ turn out to be nothing of the sort but actually funds already long allocated to the project?

Much of the current disillusionment with the government among its own supporters comes from just such manipulation. It is no use telling people that the NHS is receiving record extra cash when they can see the crisis in the hospitals with their own eyes.

Gordon Brown’s only hope of shaking off the Tories’ ‘stealth tax’ jibes is to come clean with the real figures on Tuesday.

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