JUST six weeks into the new Lib-Con love-in, and the biggest mystery of the coalition has finally been put to bed. No, not how ultra-liberal Vincey is getting on with his toffier-nosed colleagues behind that pasted-on grimace, but whether or not Boy George is ready to join his predecessors in a cheeky Budget tipple.
Seasoned readers will remember the days when chancellors took full advantage of their unique right to knock back an alcoholic drink in the House of Commons. Ruddy-faced Ken Clarke used to drink Scotch whisky, of course, while Nigel Lawson preferred a white wine spritzer, Disraeli went for brandy and water and William Gladstone himself chose sherry with a beaten egg.
Before the House gathered yesterday to hear Osborne set out his plans, Ladbrokes were not exactly optimistic on his willingness to follow old-school tradition, offering odds of 4/5 on him drinking water. It gave punters 25/1 on the chance of orange juice, 50/1 on a glass of wine and long odds of 100/1 on both gin and tonic and champagne.
Needless to say, Osborne sidestepped the considerable political pitfalls of being seen to quaff bubbly in public and stuck to a few sips of tap water. Shame.
Mind you, while we’re on the subject of tipples, it seems our new chancellor isn’t averse to a drink or two when the right occasion arises.
After announcing to the House that the coalition would “report back in the autumn on the scope for targeting alcohol duty at the products most associated with binge drinking”, Osborne had a compensatory carrot for those who would be affected by said duty.
“We have decided to reverse the previous government’s plan to increase the duty on cider by 10 per cent above inflation,” he began, to titters from the back benches. “The reduction will come into effect at the end of this month – just in time to celebrate England’s progress to the quarter finals, or else to drown our sorrows…”
It was au revoir but not goodbye yesterday to the chancellor’s iconic red Budget briefcase, which was originally used by William Gladstone a century and a half ago.
Last week, the National Archives put its foot down and insisted this time would have to be the case’s last outing before going into retirement, since it’s so battered and bruised that it’s in danger of disintegrating.
“The box is considered a public record and The National Archives is responsible for preserving important public records for future generations,” it sniffed, pompously.
Still, at least Osborne gets a shiny new model made for him to use in the next few years – apparently, construction of an identical model is already underway using pinewood, brass and goat leather (all in the name of posterity, y’know).
The replica will be the same in every respect, apart from the initials embossed on the front, which will read ERII after the current Queen. The old model, which will now be displayed at the Cabinet War Rooms in Whitehall, bore Queen Victoria’s initial.
HIDE AND SEEK
Strange that as George Osborne began to speak yesterday, he was flanked on our TV screens not by David Cameron but by Liberals Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander. Where was the first half of the ubiquitous double-act, we asked ourselves; had someone stolen the new Prime Minister?
A few minutes of furtive seat-shifting from the Lib Dem pair later, the answer became clear – Cameron had not disappeared, but had simply tucked himself neatly behind Osborne as he spoke. Which meant, of course, staying well out of the public’s line of sight while all those painful tax hikes were introduced. Top marks for a calculating, if transparent, piece of choreography.
Forget gripes about fiscal tightening – the government’s got bigger problems on its hands, according to David Buik, the BGC strategist who’s established himself as a piece of the City furniture with his extensive daily ruminations on the market.
“I drove past Parliament Square at 5.10am this morning to be confronted by three men urinating quite publicly on the green,” Buik stormed in one of his missives yesterday.
“Come on Prime Minister, please can we move this low life on from outside the home of the mother of democracy!”
ALL TIED UP
A look-up for the punters’ books (but not the bookies) yesterday as the chancellor took a sartorial risk with his neckwear.
The Capitalist isn’t about to try and take sides as to which colour Osborne’s tie actually was, since Twitter has been awash ever since with comments over an unfortunate slip-up by Ladbrokes.
The betting firm rather rashly decided after the Budget to pay out on punts of both blue and green, reasoning that it couldn’t decide between the two. That little stunt meant that the firm lost out on about £15,000, rather than raking in the money as it would have done if it had plumped for green, which was only backed by a handful of people.
“As George Osborne takes it all away, we’re handing it back,” grumbles a Ladbrokes spokesman. “The sunshine must have gone to our heads.”
IRISH IN A STEW
Ironic timing from the people over at Tourism Ireland, which picked Budget day to plaster its advertising all over the Spectator’s Coffee House blog.
Ireland, of course, is the only country in the European Union which has a heftier deficit than the UK…
UP IN SMOKE
Word reaches The Capitalist of a rather lucrative little auction taking place at Scottish restaurant Boisdale of Belgravia on Monday evening, just hours before the Budget.
Auctioneer C. Gars took the opportunity to sell off fifty vintage Romeo y Julieta Piramidos, which were apparently Winston Churchill’s favourite brand of Cuban cigars, for £128 a pop. Among the rest of the 169 lots was a Cuaba Salamones II humidor, containing 45 cigars, which went for £9,500, more than doubling its original estimate.
What’s more, the new owners don’t have to worry about paying capital gains tax on their investment – cigars are exempt because they’re considered to be a “wasting product”.
Proving himself savvy when it comes to the priorities of the nation, Osborne brought his first Budget forward by a couple of hours to avoid clashing with the dual World Cup clashes at 3pm yesterday.
Inspired by that act of perception, entrepreneur-focused accountancy firm RSM Tenon decided to put together a bevy of measures it said would reduce the £156bn deficit by around 4.6 per cent, all targeting the world of football.
To do that, the firm suggests making Premiership footballers sacrifice their salary for a year, generating around £1.8bn; scrapping England’s 2018 bid to host the tournament, saving £3.5bn; introducing a tax on clubs refurbishing their stadiums; doubling the cost of annual season tickets; and increasing VAT on team merchandise and football training clothes and equipment paid by clubs.
Good job Osborne didn’t take the firm’s tongue-in-cheek advice – he’d probably have been lynched.
And finally, a sobering observation on that Budget, courtesy of BNP Paribas economist Alan Clarke.
Clarke wrote in a note yesterday that he had been “startled” by the pitiful effect the government’s fiscal tightening is expected to have on GDP growth, according to consensus forecasts and the Office for Budget Responsibility – which had assumed quarter-on-quarter growth of around 0.6 per cent prior to the Budget, but has now nudged that down to 0.5 per cent in the first quarter next year.
“This is supposed to be the most aggressive fiscal tightening in a generation and it merely knocks 0.1 percentage point off GDP in a single quarter,” Clarke exclaimed. “The snow in January probably had a bigger effect.”