A beginner’s guide to the budget

It’s the economy, stupid

You may think that the Budget is a somewhat dull set piece about tax, but beneath all the talk of OBR predictions it is extremely political.

This Budget is first and foremost about the election. The Conservatives are trying to find the balance between talking up their success on economic growth while still making the recovery seem fragile enough to persuade people not to vote for Labour.

Expect plenty of references to the #LongTermEconomicPlan, not “giving the keys back to the people who crashed the car”, and goading of the opposition, particularly those who were part of the last Labour government.

For more on what the voluntary sector should expect from this year’s Budget see Andrew O’Brien’s blog.

What happens on the day

As is her royal prerogative, the Queen gets an early view. It is traditional for the Queen to invite the Chancellor to dine the evening before the Budget.

On the morning of Budget day, the Chancellor presents to the Cabinet. Theoretically they are able to make amendments, but in practice there is not enough time.

Then comes the famous photo with the red box in Downing Street.

Parliament is last in line. The timing of the Chancellor’s speech to parliament has moved through the decades, but current practice is for it to follow Prime Minister’s Questions at 12:30 on a Wednesday.

The speech usually lasts an hour and sets out a review of finances before moving on to tax proposals. It’s followed immediately by a response from the Leader of the Opposition. Whilst this is an off the cuff response, media leaks of the major announcements mean they will have a good idea of the direction the speech will take and can plan the lines they want to take.

The contents of the Budget are debated by Parliament for a number of days, with different policy areas taken one at a time. Following the Parliament Act, the House of Lords gets no say in the Budget.

Pub quiz trivia

  1. The word budget comes from bougette or ‘little bag’, but overtime the tradition shifted from carrying the document in a leather bag to the red box we are all familiar with. The original, commissioned by Gladstone in the 1860s, was in use for 100 years, but tomorrow George Osborne will use a replica.
  2. Famously, the Budget is the only time anyone is allowed to drink alcohol in the chamber. Gladstone drank sherry, Churchill stuck to brandy, and Ken Clarke favoured a glass of whisky. This tradition has not been taken up by recent administrations, and after the furore George Osborne faced for eating a Byron burger ahead of the last spending review, this year is not likely to be the year it returns.
  3. The tradition was already waning in the Thatcher government. Norman Lamont did not want to be pictured carrying a bottle of whisky into the Commons. Instead he stashed the bottle in the red box and the speech was carried in William Hague’s bag.
  4. While the 2012 Budget of pasty tax fame was widely thought to be a disaster, Osborne did better than George Ward Hunt. In 1869 he arrived in the Commons to realise he had forgotten his speech and the red box was empty.
  5. Chancellor of the Exchequer is the only one of the Great Offices of State to have not been held by a woman. While Thatcher became the first female Prime Minister in 1979, the first female Foreign Secretary did not follow until Margaret Beckett in 2006. The first female Home Secretary was Jacqui Smith in 2007.
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Charlotte was our senior external relations officer and public affairs consultant. She has left NCVO

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