Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Waiting for a Budget, sipping Buckie and musing

Everyone's at battle stations for the big day. Darling will have chosen his tie by now, rehearsed the lines and hopefully had something strong to steady the nerves.

He'll have to negotiate his way past civil servant strikers who are adding a bit of colour and noise to proceedings around Whitehall today.

Some details are already leaking out. No stamp duty for first time buyers; a staged introduction of the fuel duty increase - welcome news in rural Scotland.

There are hints of a heavy tax increase on alcopops and strong cider, which will play well for Labour in Scotland where they continue to oppose minimum alcohol pricing. Any chance of a tax on Buckie, the fortified Buckfast tonic wine that is the drink of choice in many Scottish towns?

The stong, caffine-boosted brew is blamed for much of the anti-social behaviour, crime and disorder in Scottish constituencies. Labour politicians regularly ask to have it banned.

In January a BBC investigation revealed that Buckfast was mentioned in 5,638 crime reports in the Strathclyde area of Scotland in the three previous years, equating to three a day on average.

One in 10 of those offences was violent and the bottle was used as a weapon 114 times in that period. Further, in a survey last year of 172 prisoners at a young offenders’ institution, 43 percent of the 117 people who drank alcohol before committing their crimes said they had drunk Buckfast.

I'm sure it's not what the chancellor will be sipping before leaving Downing Street for the dispatch box. Duty on spirits and beers is likely to go up too.

The big thing is how to reduce the record deficit, which is slightly lower than expected because of the money saved from smaller than expected unemployment figures. Darling has given legal undertakings to do so in the next four years.

Forcing the banks into more lending, which Vince Cable has identified as the looming crisis that could cause the dreaded "double dip" recession, is also a big box that needs ticking. There are plans for a "peoples' bank" through the Post Office network and obliging banks to provide basic accounts for everyone.

He is usually so ultra-dry in his delivery but with the election, his own job prospects and, not to mention, the economic future of the nation in the balance I hope Darling will show a flourish of passion at half past twelve.

He's promised a "workmanlike" budget but there has to be some rabbit out of the hat. My guess - something for the poorest pensioners - a minimum income guarantee

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