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OH, FOR THE DAYS BEFORE PURITANS WIELDED THE BUDGET BRIEFCASE...

BUDGET Days, under New Labour, have become a decidedly austere affair in recent years – and not just because the public finances are spiralling out of control.

Alongside bringing a battered red briefcase to the House of Commons, the incumbent chancellor is traditionally allowed to drink from a glass of his favourite tipple while presenting his Budget – the only time an alcoholic drink is allowed in the chamber. William Gladstone is said to have enjoyed sherry with a beaten egg, while subsequent chancellors have chosen anything from strong Scotch whisky to wine.

That all changed, more’s the pity, with Gordon Brown, who sipped on nothing but plain old water – a habit continued by his sober successor Alistair Darling.

But what, The Capitalist asks, might shadow chancellor George Osborne choose if he ends up presenting the Budget the next time round if the Tories do manage to scoop a win at the general election?

Ken Clarke, when he was in the hot seat in the Nineties, was not one to shy away from old-school traditions, glugging away at finest whisky while he ran through the figures. Yet something tells me Osborne might prove more of a Puritan...


BEAUTY SPAT
There’s clearly an ongoing fight for the bathroom mirror underway over at restaurant company Clapham House Group. Word reaches The Capitalist that chief executive Paul Campbell and the rest of the board are currently preparing for a bit of an unusual evening at the end of April, when they’ll be descending upon the Real Greek restaurant on Bankside to wait on customers in aid of the Starlight Children’s Foundation.

But Campbell and chairman David Page, ever the competitive duo, have got a bit of a wager going as to who’ll be palmed the most in tips.

“My strategy will be to flirt heavily with female customers – and hope their partners don’t notice too much!” chuckles Campbell. “David and I both reckon we’re better looking than each other, but I suppose we’ll get proof on the night.”


ONE IN, ONE OUT
Interesting times for Julian Eccles, the former Sky chief spinner who left his position at Ofcom on Friday to join the Football Association as its new head of comms.

Eccles was expecting to report to Ian Watmore under his new mantle, after the FA chief brought him on board.

But that all changed yesterday when Watmore abruptly tendered his resignation – presumably causing Eccles to break out into a light sheen of sweat as he pottered around the rose beds on his first day of gardening leave.


LEGAL WRANGLE
It hardly came as a huge surprise yesterday when a report thudded onto The Capitalist’s desk from law firm Eversheds, claiming that the term “Magic Circle”, when used to describe the top legal organisations in the UK, is now largely defunct.

Eversheds, of course, fails by a whisker to qualify to join that elite club, though chief executive Bryan Hughes is quick to insist that the views in the report are those of the general counsel and private practice partners it polled rather than its own, quelling suspicions it aimed to diss its larger rivals.

“The points made in the report are not the views of the editor,” booms Hughes, defiantly. “No-one is predicting the demise of the Magic Circle…”

That’s that cleared up, then.


TIDY INVESTMENT
Nice to see Tim Ingram, the man taking over from Terry Smith as chairman of Collins Stewart in April, putting his money where his mouth is.

Ingram yesterday snapped up 250,000 shares in the company for almost £0.2m, with the transaction taking place just a day after the firm announced annual results last week.


ALL IN A GAME
Finally, a date for the diaries of City boys and girls who fancy gambling a night away this weekend with the best views in town. Searcys at the Gherkin are putting on a “Roulette and Ratpack” evening at the iconic tower this Saturday evening, with tickets available at £150 for unlimited drinks, canapés and casino access and at £225 per person for a four course meal, drinks and gaming.

I’m told there’ll be a Ratpack-style band on hand to do the entertaining – and you don’t even have to worry about blowing your bonus in one fell swoop, since you’ll be playing with a set number of chips to win prizes, rather than with “real money”. Foolproof!