So yesterday we had Alistair Darling's first budget. I have to say that on this occasion I didn't watch it, my excuse being that I genuinely had to be somewhere else at the time. But even if I had been in I'm not sure that I would have bothered to view it or listen on the radio. In the good old days of budgets there used to be a bit of fizz about them. Latterly we have had years of Gordon Brown delivering a cascade of statistics whilst repeatedly inferring that wasn't he a clever so and so in the running of the economy. There's been much comment about Darling's lacklustre style; I think Gordon Brown is happy with that because of the squeeze on the economy and lack of genuine good news: he wants to move on quickly from the decisions of this year's budget.
Because there wasn't scope for any decent handouts by Darling then it was easy for the opposition leaders to go after him. It used to be standard practice for the best bits to be kept to the very end so that the leader of the opposition could be wrong footed, the last mentioned really had to think on their feet and at great speed when the last two sentences of the Chancellor's speech might be say ... "From April the standard rate of income tax will be reduced by 2p in the pound. I commend this budget to the House" (Much waving of order papers on the government benches).
The thing that really gets me though is the deliberate slipping out of information prior to the event. In this instance the day before the budget the decision to postpone the hike of 2p in fuel tax was out in the public arena. I assume the idea was to get the motoring public in a reasonable frame of mind early to mitigate the sharp increases in road fund licence announced the following day. But it's the MPs in the House who should be informed first. It's interesting to note that another Labour Chancellor, Hugh Dalton, resigned after the 1947 budget when he let slip some information to a journalist prior to his speech. I believe very strongly that if you are making a speech to a group of people be they MPs, captains of industry, union leaders, whoever then those particular audiences should be the first to know what the orator says. These days it appears to be common practice for a precis of the subject matter to be trailed earlier so that for instance the 'Today' programme can discuss it before the audience has heard it! I find this to be grossly disrespectful to those who are going to listen to the speech.
I don't know how recently this process started but I feel it is another manifestation of the lowered standards of public life.