As George Osborne sat down, having pinked his way through another Budget, three hands shot forth to congratulate him. David Cameron gave him a little play-punch. Treasury Chief Secretary Greg Hands leaned across to give his boss’s steaming withers a pat.
And Home Secretary Theresa May, from the other side, reached out to give the Chancellor a rub. Or was she grabbing hold of him to say ‘cop an eyeful of these puppies, big boy’? Treasury forecasts were not the only things plunging.
There is an old line about the politician who cries, ‘these are my principles!’ and adds ‘and if you don’t like them, I have others I can offer you.’ At recent Budgets we have become used to Mr Osborne effectively saying: ‘I have economic forecasts – and if they don’t fit our purposes, I have other forecasts I can offer you.’
Shimmy: The day had already brought one eyepopper when Jeremy Corbyn entered wearing a smart, dark jacket. Compo at a funeral! He gave a self-teasing little shimmy like a fashion model
Forecasts are never wrong or madly over-optimistic. They are ‘revised down’. Productivity growth had been ‘revised down’, as had world trade. Labour MPs jeered as Mr Osborne admitted that ‘this revision is a highly uncertain judgment call’.
This from a man who is making such a palaver about the alleged uncertainty of leaving the circular firing squad of the European Union.
Mr Osborne adopted his ‘vet giving bad news to owner of doomed gerbil’ voice and said the forecasts were ‘predicated on Britain remaining in the EU’.
His experts were a-quiver at the ‘extended period of uncertainty’ that could follow Brexit. ‘Uncertainty’ is a fancy way of saying ‘we haven’t really got a clue’ – which they haven’t.
Behind Mr Osborne sat Eurosceptic Stewart Jackson (Con, Peterborough). He greeted the EU remarks by saying, audibly, ‘rubbish’. He then mouthed a word not unadjacent to ‘ball-cocks’. The day had already brought one eyepopper when Jeremy Corbyn entered wearing a smart, dark jacket. Compo at a funeral!
He gave a self-teasing little shimmy like a fashion model. Had Mr Corbyn raised his gaze to the upstairs gallery opposite, he would have seen a claque of Labour MPs not yet convinced by Corbynism.
They sat there like a row of hanging judges. They included Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon), Ian Austin (Dudley N) and Dan Jarvis (Barnsley C). The last gave a wolfish grin.
As George Osborne sat down, having pinked his way through another Budget, three hands shot forth to congratulate him. Was Theresa May grabbing hold of him to say ‘cop an eyeful of these puppies, big boy’?
Mr Osborne praised departing Treasury mandarin Sir Nicholas Macpherson, who had ‘always demonstrated the great British civil service values of integrity and impartiality’.
Cue derisive laughter from the SNP benches (who feel Sir Nicholas was most partial during their independence referendum).
Sir Nicholas was in a corner box near the Speaker’s Chair but he was hidden by the deep-gusseted bulk of young Alec Shelbrooke (Con, Elmet, Rothwell and most chip shops between here and Wetherby). No sunflower prospers in Mr Shelbrooke’s shadow. ‘This is a Budget for the next generation,’ said Mr Osborne. Short-term political point-scorer, moi?
Home Secretary Theresa May reached out to give the Chancellor a rub. Or was she grabbing hold of him to say ‘cop an eyeful of these puppies, big boy’?
One Budget Day game is scanning Tory benches to spot the most egregious sycophant. Northampton North’s ‘Sir’ Michael Ellis, the Buckingham Palace corridor crawler, is hard to beat but he faced competition yesterday from charm-lite Alan Mak (Havant), nodding-dog Matt Warman (Boston) and a Suffolk man called Cartlidge, an absurd and tiresome brayer.
The longer Mr Osborne spoke, the more Tiny Tim-squeaky became his timbre. Tory MPs liked his stuff on shopkeepers and ISAs. The sugar tax thing slipped down easily. Exposition of the less palatable cuts was left – old trick – to the speech’s accompanying documents.
Mr Corbyn spoke with conviction and courageous force. It may be that his economic analysis is dotty but at least he says what he believes.
His opponents sneered but I find it hard to suppress a glimmer of admiration. The sight of him being heckled by that minor figure Mark Garnier (Con, Wyre Forest) was not elevating.
The only other thing to report is a storming speech later by Jacob Rees-Mogg (Con, NE Somerset), which tore into Treasury forecasts on the EU for being ‘exaggerated, wrong, bordering on the hysterical’ and full of Brownian spin.