Wednesday's budget


Everyone in the House of Commons on Wednesday will know the secret. Alastair Darling's Budget will be no more than a holding operation. Whoever wins, the real Budget will come at the end of June – about seven weeks after the inevitable May 6 election.

It will be upbeat of course. It turns out that the Chancellor has not had to borrow as much as he thought – 'only' £132bn in the first eleven months of this financial year, against a full-year estimate of £178bn. (I say 'only', but £132bn is still £5,666 for every household in the country. Tax receipts have held up and unemployment benefit payments have been lower than he feared. So, even though the Tories and the City want him to use every penny paying back debt, he might still indulge himself by spending a bit of that windfall on some high-profile pre-election sweetener.

And there will be the usual optimistic growth predictions. The future, he will tell us, is bright. The future's Brown. But nothing else to catch the eye. A new 50p tax, higher NIC, and a curb on top-rate pension reliefs will affect only the better off – if they haven't all moved to Switzerland by then. Top civil servants will face a pay freeze, and nurses, teachers, police and others will have to survive within a 1% pay rise – which amounts to a real cut.

Even the Tories right now, while asserting the need for spending cuts, have announced only insignificant changes – all focused again on the better-off. They say they will announce more after the Budget. But since this fake Budget will not reveal anything, it will hardly put them under any pressure to say much at all.

But everyone on the green benches will know the reality. That whoever is elected, it is only after we have voted for them that they will tell us the full scale of the cuts that everyone knows is needed to get the UK out of a deep sea of red ink. The future's not bright. The future's belt-tightening.