Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist

Article excerpt

Byline: PAUL LINFORD

BACK in 2007, the then Shadow Chancellor George Osborne changed the course of political history by announcing, in a speech at the Tory party conference, plans to increase the threshold for inheritance tax to PS1m.

Such was the Viagra-like effect on the party's poll ratings that the new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, jettisoned plans for a snap election he would almost certainly have won, and his reputation never recovered.

Would there be a similar gamechanger from Mr Osborne in this week's pre-election Budget, a coup-de-theatre which would break the long deadlock in the opinion polls which has seen the two main parties neck-and-neck on around 33% of the vote apiece? Given the Chancellor's previous form, expectations were certainly high in the run-up to Wednesday's statement. But alas for him, the answer seems to be no.

Budgets generally fall into two categories - those which look good in the immediate aftermath but which then swiftly unravel, and those which seem rather dull on first appearance but which later come to be viewed as shrewd and statesmanlike.

This week's Budget looks to have been one of the latter, a safety-first package which pointedly eschewed the rabbit-out-of-thehat routines we have come to expect at this point in the political cycle.

But while Mr Osborne can be applauded for resisting the temptation to fund the kind of pre-election giveaways that have characterised some of his predecessors, it nevertheless represents something of a gamble on his part.

Sure, if the Tories go on to win on May 7, it will look judicious. But if they fail, he will more than likely be blamed for spurning their last big opportunity to spring a vote-winning surprise.

Much discussion in this part of the world has centred on whether this was, as it has been billed in some quarters, a 'Budget for the North.' There were no fewer than 15 mentions of the North in Wednesday's statement and whatever Mr Osborne can justifiably be accused of, he certainly cannot be accused of ignoring the Northern regions in the way that New Labour routinely did.

But on the question of whether the Chancellor's lofty rhetoric about the 'Northern Powerhouse' will be matched by real economic progress, the jury remains very much out. …

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