Sugaring the Budget Pill

Chancellors like to control the flow of the budget news coverage.

A nice little trickle the weekend before…

A faster stream of leaks in the final 24 hours…

A torrent of announcements on the day…

A few extra spurts after the event…

George Osborne has managed most of that.

But it was the unexpected pssht “ of the Sugar Tax that sent the headline writers into a fizz.

Nobody had quite predicted it. The working assumption had been that the delay to the Childhood Obesity Strategy would mean no announcements on sugar until the summer.

But David Cameron had previously indicated that a tax on sugary drinks was actively being considered in government.

The announcement gave the Chancellor a clear on-the-day headline and a big talking point to dominate the post-match analysis.

Budget 2016 was also used by Osborne as an unashamedly BREMAIN vehicle powered by the full force of government and the civil service against BREXIT. ​

 "In this Budget, we choose to put stability first... In this Budget, we choose the long-term; we choose to put the next generation first."  George Osborne

Allusion to the looming EU referendum was subtle at first.

But later, Osborne was more direct – quoting the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) that a vote to leave would lead to “disruptive uncertainty”.

The chancellor’s aim today was to show progress –  but in a dangerous and uncertain world.  Exactly the political context Osborne and Cameron want for the European debate.

With such a big vote coming, it felt more like a pre-election budget.

No rises in fuel duty; investment in schools and infrastructure; tax cuts for small businesses; loopholes closed for big business.

Osborne will hope he’s done enough to make voters feel a little bit better about the state of the nation but also worry a little bit more about what could be ahead.

So did he manage the balancing act?

Headlines for the next few days: guaranteed.

Changing the longer term political context: far from certain.

Corbyn’s response

Often described as the hardest job in politics, there was intense speculation on how Jeremy Corbyn would handle his first time responding to the Chancellor’s Budget.

As is tradition, opposition leaders are given only minutes to gather their thoughts in the Chamber before having to provide a 30-minute speech on a document they haven’t fully read. Twitter was immediately awash with comments that the Labour leader looked far more statesman-like, with Corbyn ditching his usual cord jacket in favour of a sharp blue suit (but with black trousers?!) and red tie. And there was no doubting his passion and confidence. ​

 “This is a Chancellor who’s produced a Budget for hedge fund managers more than for small businesses” – Jeremy Corbyn

 Unfairness lay at the heart of his response, with Corbyn accusing Osborne of abandoning the hard-working, those with disabilities, and those living in poverty in favour of tax cuts for multinationals -“this Budget is the culmination of six years of the Chancellor’s failures”. Perhaps the strongest endorsement of his performance is that he is unlikely to generate many headlines in tomorrow’s papers – mismatching suit aside.