Friday, 17 April 2009

A budget speech of blood, sweat and tears?

Preparing for next week's budget speech Alistair Darling would do well to read the reaction to Ireland's tax-raising and spending cuts budget designed to ready the country for the long haul out of debt.

I've no doubt that the electorate here is ready for the same thing, regardless of who is in power, but as Fintan O'Toole pointed out in the Irish Times earlier this week you have to leave people with some hope too.

O'Toole says that the public mood in Ireland after the budget is "not seething outrage or wild anger, it is simple, down-home, dumbstruck despair".

He adds: "There is, quite plainly, nothing to look forward to. There is no narrative of pain and gain. The pain is up-front, obvious and laid out before us in an orderly multi-annual menu of misery. It is the future. But where’s the gain?"

Dare I say it but in London and in Glasgow over the past few weeks I've sensed that people are itching to start spending their money again, as if consumerism is a compulsion that we must feed. Last month's retail figures don't support my thesis but the anecdotal evidence is that people are saying "what the hell" and spending anyway.

That could be a false sense of the worst being over, when it might not be at all, but with Peter Mandelson cheering us on the nation should get back to shopping soon.

Mandelson, by the way, is fearless, or rather has nothing to lose. It is taboo for an elected politician to tell people to cheer up when joblessness is heading to three million - remember the Daily mail tirade Tom Harris MP received when he blogged on the subject. But Lord Mandelson is untouchable and knows that so much of economic recovery is going to be about consumer confidence and he's trying to instill some.

Will Darling be able to do the same thing, with a more subtle touch, next week? After a year of economic freefall it's a tall order to squeeze even a paragraph of hope into a budget speech but people will need something more than blood, sweat and tears.

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