19 Mar 2012

A budget like no other?

Amazing to consider that leaking budget secrets cost a chancellor his job way back in 1947. Hugh Dalton had a chat with a hack about possible tax changes, and the rest is history.

It’s taken 64 years but suddenly there is seemingly little or no budget “purdah”. The options are out there in the public domain being raked over by the minute and the red box is still several days from being opened by Mr Dalton’s current successor, George Osborne.

But where once a Budget leak was a leak, is it now perhaps a signal of open government? Why shouldn’t the priorities, options, deals, and the rest, be out there for public debate? The Budget may yet prove to be the last bastion of old style “hole-in-the-corner” British political decision-making. “Market sensitive, old chap”, was the old cry. Yet right now, we are told that there has been considerable pre-Budget activity in the pensions arena against much discussed Budget changes to the pensions tax regime.

Budget life is unlikely ever to be the same again. But the wider question is perhaps whether government life itself will ever be the same again.

Once upon a recent time, a U-turn was seen as a damnable ministerial failure. But the coalition government has suddenly sprung a succession of U-turns on an unsuspecting populace. Is the U-turn itself is suddenly transmogrifying into a positive concept: a “listening government” even?

Many news outlets are still obsessed with argument and fall-out between ministers and MPs within the coalition. But then individual governing parties of the past have themselves been argumentative coalitions – it’s just that we less often got a full read out of what was going on.

Despite failure after failure at political reform, it seems the electorate may accidentally have brought it about without a single new law being passed. Is it too optimistic to suggest that the Budget leak, and the more commonplace U-turn, have ushered in a new age of ‘open government’, without any of us noticing?

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