24 March 2010

Budget Day: Keeping the voters happy

The waiting is over.  After the endless speculation, we reach the day when Labour launches its bid for a fourth election victory.

There will key words; “recovery”, “investment”, “jobs”, statistics galore, lots of cheering, waving of order papers, slaps on the Chancellor’s back when he sits down and far too much analysis.  You never know, Brown may even smile as the Budget speech unfolds.

Labour has done well to lower expectations ahead of the great day.  The overnight polls, despite the strikes and the lobbying scandal, are still indicating a hung parliament.  The underdog, as Mandelson described New Labour last year, are well placed to deny the Tories their expectant election victory.

As Team Cameron nervously counts down the hours until Darling gets to his feet, what should we look out for?

Two small matters are most important; satisfying the markets that Labour is doing enough to tackle the deficit, but, above all, keeping the patient happy and content until polling day. 

There will, of course, be Brown’s famous dividing lines to wrong foot the Tories, plus a few rabbits and plenty of sweets to keep us all happy.  Above all, the Budget will be very political.

What Labour will want to avoid is the usual slump in the polls that has happened after recent Budgets.  The presentation must be watertight and not unravel after a few clever people have studied the small print.

When Cameron gets up to reply we will get the usual cry of doom and gloom and the boring attacks on Gordon Brown, which are not going down well with the punters.  Perhaps he will surprise us all and finally behave as a Prime Minister-in-waiting should, but it is doubtful.

Once the show is over comes the hard sell, when we can expect Labour to focus their efforts on exposing George Osborne.  He will come under tremendous pressure over the next few days to explain where the Tories will cut and when.

At the end of the day what will matter to Brown and Mandelson is how the Budget plays out in The Voters’ Arms.

If they do succeed in keeping the patient happy and a momentum builds and the Red Book doesn't fall apart, why wait until 6 April to call the election?

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