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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 March 2006, 14:50 GMT
Battle between the would-be PMs
Sketch
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

As ever, there are still plenty of questions left unanswered.

Gordon Brown

There are huge sums of money sloshing about, but close examination is needed to discover exactly where they have come from.

Promises have been made and sweeteners for the future offered.

Many in the Labour Party have been surprised by the revelations - they didn't see them coming.

But at least Gordon Brown's 10th, and possibly final Budget, has come along to overshadow the cash-for peerages row.

And this was just as billed. As Gordon Brown said himself, it was a "budget for the future". Or, more specifically, a budget for HIS future as the prime minister soon to be facing David Cameron over the despatch box.

So he did his utmost to show he was as committed to reform as Tony Blair - and he had a fistful of money for education to prove it.

Tax cuts

He also turned as green as he could with the expected tax hike for high-polluting cars - a Glasgow kiss for the Chelsea tractor? - in an attempt to kick David Cameron's bike from under him.

And he offered more for families, would-be Olympic athletes, and homebuyers.

David Cameron

He spent a great deal of his 61 minutes attempting to blow up David Cameron's policies on tax cuts, spending limits and the environment.

He joked about the Tory leader's "flip flopping" and his role in Black Wednesday which did so much to finish off John Major.

In fact, Mr Brown told us, he had been so brilliant he had enough money to promise future tax cuts of the sort the Tories wanted.

But we weren't getting them. Instead he will be investing in education, education, education.

Now that's a great way of having it both ways - promising spending but still holding out the prospect that he might one day get around to tax cuts as well.

Look fresh

But his overall message was contained in the phrases about the years ahead and "this era of great change". That is the looming Brown era presumably.

Sir Menzies Campbell

And Tony Blair sat alongside, nodding.

But it is hard to look fresh when you are doing something for the 10th time. Newish Tory leader David Cameron's theme was already well-rehearsed.

And, it has to be said, in the battle of the sound bites he had by far the best lines.

Brown as the "roadblock to reform" is already old, hat but the "fossil fuel chancellor" was a new one.

And there were lots of variations on the theme, that Mr Brown was stuck in the past, old-style tax and spend Labour Party, and the man responsible for the government's failures.

He also spotted the peerages line of attack, however, claiming that with what he said was an unimpressive record with the nation's finances, Mr Brown was well qualified to move to be treasurer of the Labour Party.

No levity

That's not the job Mr Brown has in mind, of course. He has his eyes and red box firmly targeted on 10 Downing Street. But so does Mr Cameron.

So what we got was a taste of things to come and, on this showing, it could be quite fun.

But then, to take some of the fun out of it, it was the turn of Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell, whose pin-striped persona is all gravitas and no levity.

Trouble is, even when he has a good joke idea - like the one about his frontbencher Julia Goldsworthy taking part in TV reality show "The Games" - his delivery lets him down. (I'm still not sure what the punch line was).

He had a point about council tax and the lack of a promise to reduce it but, even on a good budget day, the Lib Dem leader is reduced to lowest billing.

This day was worse as it was all about two would-be prime ministers attempting to show which of them most deserved the keys to No 10.

Nick.Assinder-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk




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Gordon Brown and David Cameron go head to head in the Commons



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