Our pre-occupation with British budget speeches is well-founded. Not least, because it’s a time to digest unwelcome news about tax hikes on just about everything. And, of course, a time to hear about training and welfare initiatives…and the roll-out of Universal Credit. It’s also a time to calculate who are the winners and who are the losers in 2020. Now, that’s a very British preoccupation.
And this year’s Spring Budget is going to be unusual. The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is new and only replaced his predecessor a few weeks ago. Add to that mix the latency of EU trade negotiations and the potency of Covid-19 mitigation. So, the Chancellor has a job to do.
The 2018 Autumn budget was meant to be a little different to all the others that had preceded it. Except for…well, just about everything really. Because it was meant to be the final Budget speech before the country left the EU in March 2019. So, realistically, Philip Hammond needed some serious help to give that budget speech. Put the policy to one side. Would he have a coughing fit? Would there be a prankster or, would the scenery fall down? Anything could happen! But, fortunately, history was definitely on his side. But not for long, and very soon the Philip Hammond was out of two jobs.
Yes, we have a preoccupation with our budget history. Budget interest dates back to the first annual Budget in the 1720’s when Sir Robert Walpole was Chancellor of the Exchequer. But we can thank another of his former colleagues as Chancellor of the Exchequer, William Pitt, who used his Budget speech to introduce a temporary measure. That was the innovation of income tax. Temporary?
There are 5 key pointers to help you as you get yourself ready for your budget speech.
Symbolism is important for all British Budget speeches. And that extends to the special box displayed by the Chancellor on the steps of his residence before the Budget. The Budget box was crafted for William Gladstone so he could carry his speech from Downing Street to Parliament.
The shortest British Budget speech is recorded as 45 minutes long and was given by Benjamin Disraeli in 1867. And the record for the longest speech—timed at four hours 45 minutes—goes to William Gladstone, who was sustained, so we gather, by a drink of sherry and beaten egg.
Unusually the Chancellor is still permitted by the House to have an alcoholic drink during his speech. Quite so. His successors now settle for mineral water which is perhaps a little unimaginative in the historical context of the speech. Other notable imbibers have included Kenneth Clarke with a whisky and Geoffrey Howe with a gin and tonic. How British. What will Rishi Sunak have to drink? Something quite dull is our suspicion. But some Harrogate Spring water and a predecessor’s famous cough sweets would be a good bet.
So with the British Budget Speech we celebrate a peculiarly British event. The speeches are typically not theatrical. But they are thorough.
In fact it’s a rare moment for the Chancellor to hog the limelight. Something that former Chancellor Geoffrey Howe, described by Diane Abbott as the most boring man in Parliament, avoided until he resigned from office, delivered his resignation speech and effectively gave the coup de grace to Mrs Thatcher.
All in a day’s work for former Chancellors. So, how will Rishi Sunak get on? This year the Chancellor hasn’t leaked everything ahead of time. And that is unusual. But, then Covid-19 is also unusual. So, who knows?
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“I got a tremendous reaction to the end of the speech. People were waving order papers and cheering; I kept pinching myself. I think I produced the budget which had raised more taxation than any other in living memory, so I had to wonder whether they’d been listening to it!”
Kenneth Clarke, Chancellor of the Exchequer
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