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Last Updated: Monday, 10 March 2008, 08:59 GMT
Darling hatches Zzzzzzz-plan Budget
By Norman Smith
BBC News political correspondent

Alistair Darling
Voters might not like too much pizzazz, Labour feels

We've had "giveaway Budgets" and "prudent Budgets". Even a "magpie Budget".

Now stand by for the "zzzzzzzzzzzzzz Budget".

Expect the chancellor to bore for Britain. This will be the dull, dull, dull Budget. Deliberately.

And no, that's not just because Alistair Darling is not the most scintillating of orators, or the most sparky of politicians. It's because within government there is an emerging view that "dull" is actually good politics.

As one government insider put it: "We can't beat Cameron on charisma but we can beat him on competence."

So expect plenty of references to "stability", "the long term", "tough decisions" - all delivered in Mr Darling's world-weary, flat-as-a-pancake monotone.

Of course it helps that the Treasury is perilously short of cash - so there simply isn't the money to spray around in government handouts.

Theatrics

But it's more than that. It's not just making a virtue out of necessity.

The view of Labour insiders is that at a time when people see their house prices tumbling, food and energy bills rising - and the credit crunch threatening more damage to come - now is not the time for Budget theatrics or for producing startled rabbits out of unlikely hats.

A razzmatazz Budget would just look downright reckless.

What sort of message would it send out at a time when ministers are having to endure protests by the police over the staging of their pay award? Or when government departments are being told to trim their staff and count their paperclips?

No, the view is that at a time of economic uncertainty and financial pain what people want is steady-as-you-go, sober common sense. Or, put another way, dull, dull, dull.

And there's another factor. Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling have both been badly burned by recent Budget backlashes.

Nothing flash

Mr Brown faced accusations that his last Budget was "a con trick" - after he announced with a flourish that he was cutting the basic rate of tax by two pence only for it to be revealed that he was simply putting up taxes elsewhere.

And Mr Darling in his pre-Budget report last year got himself into a terrible tangle after he sought to steal the Tory tax clothes on inheritance tax and non-doms.

So this time the word is Number 10 and Number 11 want to play it safe. Nothing flash. Just a solid, sturdy, sensible budget.

There will be the odd, sidebar headline. Tax increases to curb our naughty habits, namely drinking and driving gas-guzzling cars. And extra spending to help hit the government's child poverty targets.

But the view is most of us would be quite happy with a "zzzzzzzzzzzzz Budget".





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