Budget blunders of history

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Swamped by worsening economic forecasts, as well as heightened tension and nervousness ahead of the EU referendum, the Chancellor of the Exchequer may feel an extra edge of tension when he opens his red box to deliver next week’s Budget.

We will be keen to learn his plans for pensions, business rates and capital allowances to power a faltering manufacturing sector, a potential additional rise in Insurance Premium Tax and changes to the higher rate of personal tax.

How cautious will he be? How much will he look to ease the burdens on business and a public beginning to question his much vaunted economic recovery?

As he ponders the reactions of the viewing public and looks nervously around at his Labour and now Tory Brexit foes he will be keen to avoid some of the high profile disasters which have affected both himself and his peers all around the world over the years.

Take George Ward Hunt as a leading example.

The absent minded Chancellor Hunt opened his scarlet Budget box in 1869 only to find that he had left his speech at home.

The 21 stone Hunt, the biggest Chancellor ever, perhaps unsurprisingly only lasted six months in the job despite his boss Benjamin Disraeli informing Queen Victoria that he “has the sagacity of the elephant as well as its form”.

Who needs friends eh?

Another huge mistake was made by Hugh Dalton who leaked large parts of his Budget speech in 1947 to the London evening paper, The Star.

Unfortunately for Dalton the reporters at the paper worked faster than he had expected and let the capital’s inhabitants know about his plans to put a penny on a pint of beer and introduce a dog racing tax before he had even reached those parts of his speech in the Chamber.

Dalton resigned the next day with PM Clement Attlee lambasting him for being a “perfect ass”.

Nigel Lawson also stuttered in one of his budget speeches when he went deathly silent mid-sentence. His staff had put the pages in the wrong order.

David Lloyd George also went quiet in 1909 after three and a half hours after his vocal cords gave up. He had to have a 30-minute break before returning to the Chamber.

Perhaps he took advantage of the right of the Chancellor to drink alcohol during their Budget speech – something no Minister is allowed to do at any other time of year.

According to Parliament UK Kenneth Clarke enjoyed a little whisky in his Budget glass, whilst Nigel Lawson chose a spritzer, Geoffrey Howe a satisfying gin and tonic and Benjamin Disraeli a brandy and water.

Churchill also liked his brandy, but without the water, Hugh Dalton enjoyed milk and rum and Hugh Gaitskell had orange juice with just a dab of rum.

That other great Victorian Chancellor William Gladstone was even more adventurous opting for a combination of sherry and beaten egg.

For dramatic Budget days 1988 stands out. The SNP’s Alex Salmond, then a young first-time MP, was dismissed from the chamber and received a week long suspension following a verbal attack on Lawson.

Salmond spoke out against the poll tax and became the first MP in history to break parliamentary convention and interrupt a Chancellor’s speech.

Lawson continued to be interrupted by Labour MPs shouting “shame” before the Chamber was suspended.

Osborne also has embarrassing form. In 2012 he attacked two things extremely close to every Brit’s heart – their granny and lovely tasting pasties. By changing pensioners’ tax-free allowances and altering VAT on some hot takeaway foods Osborne’s “granny grab” and “pasty tax” was labelled an “omnishambles”.

But Budget gaffes, mistakes and disasters are not just confined to the UK.

Treasurer of Australia Joe Hockey was not at his most sensitive in 2014 when in his Budget he said, according to news.com.au, that “poorer people shouldn’t complain about the increase to the fuel excise, because poor people don’t drive as far as rich people, so they’ll scarcely be affected by the tax hike anyway”.

He later said that anybody unhappy with the Budget should “take a chill-pill here and understand that the budget is a long-term structural plan”.

Nigeria, it seems could do with any kind of plan.

It looked like it was all going so well in December when President Muhammadu Buhari presented the country’s £21billion budget to the National Assembly – the first time a leader had done so in years.

Instead of a red briefcase Nigeria has a lovely green and white coloured box from which Buhari informed the nation about huge spending to bolster the economy and develop infrastructure.

However, in early January, according to Newsweek, “hundreds of hard copies of the Budget document went missing from the Nigerian Senate” with accusations flying around that Buhari’s aides had withdrawn it to make amendments.

In February Nigerian journalists cast doubt on some of the figures – $19million on a medical centre treating only a few patients including the President and his family? Another $25million for the Vice President to spend on books, more than many of the nation’s Universities were getting?

The Government blamed “rats” in the Civil Service for changing parts of the document.

Buhari said the events had been “embarrassing and disappointing” and promptly fired the head of its Budget Office.

Not perhaps as embarrassing as the scenes inside Ukraine’s Parliament in January 2014 when a row over a state budget led to angry scenes between the ruling and opposition parties.

Okay, it was just buckwheat, and lots of it, that was thrown at Ministers but in Ukraine that is a symbol for “bribery”. The scenes were pretty ugly.

There was also a heated incident during the annual budget report at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong in 2013. Pro-democracy lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung reportedly threw a “cloud-shaped cushion” at HK’s financial secretary John Tsang to demand a universal retirement protection scheme.

Will Osborne escape similar treatment next week? If so, will he throw his tumbler of mineral water away (oops, sorry Boris..) and replace with a dram of whisky?

We only have a few days left to find out.

David Craik is a freelance journalist writing for a range of national newspapers and magazines primarily on business topics.

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