In 1996, Ken Clarke’s entire Budget was leaked to the Daily Mirror. But this was back in the more proper times (or more prim ones, if you prefer), before Tony Blair began governing for the news cycle. The Mirror handed back the Budget. And Clarke’s bacon was saved. Who knows, he might have had to resign: after all, Hugh Dalton had to go in 1947 after he tipped off a journalist about details of his Budget, believing that they wouldn’t appear in print until after it was delivered.
Like George Osborne, Philip Hammond is carrying on where Blair began. There is no longer even a pretence of purdah – at least, when it comes to writing for the Sunday papers. The Chancellor has two articles about his Budget up and running today, one in the Sun on Sunday, the other in the Sunday Times. The last begins airily with the words “in preparing my first budget…”
Hammond will doubtless keep a rabbit or two up his sleeve, if that’s quite the right way of putting it, but we already know quite a lot. There will be cash for social care and a technical education overhaul. For the latter, we will have new “T-levels”. For the former, we may have a cap on the amount than an individual has to spend on social care before government chips in (or more likely a further inquiry).
But this isn’t shaping up to be a giveaway Budget, and any new spending will apparently be offset by reductions elsewhere or, I suspect, tax rises. On second thoughts, perhaps Hammond should be absolved of the charge of following in Blair’s footsteps. After all, he has already abolished the Autumn Statement, returning the Treasury’s annual cycle more or less to where Clarke tried to take it. Perhaps he thinks that if enough details are briefed, he can go the whole hog, and scrap Budgets altogether. Which some, perhaps many, would welcome.