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Gordon&#39s and tonic with a twist

If you like driving tractors, swilling whisky, having a gamble and, erm, procreating, this was the Budget for you.

In what was perhaps an attempt to atone for some of these unsavoury associations, Chancellor Gordon Brown also promised that repairs to churches would attract a reduced rate of VAT.

Then came his pronouncements on the miners. Sorry, Myners. Brown said he had accepted the suggestions of the Myners report, making it easier for pension and life funds to invest in venture capital.

But the Gartmore chairman had ranged well beyond his brief, recommending “son of Myners” to look at retail investments. The Chancellor calmly accepted all recommendations. IFAs watch out.

Otherwise, the familiar tones of long-termism and prudence inhabited the Budget speech, listened to with smug confidence from the benches behind.

When the organ grinder finally sat back down next to his monkey, as William Hague had so kindly described Brown and Blair in the preceding debate, there was a palpable air of satisfaction from the Labour camp.

Those wanting annuity reform, however, went thirsty. Brown, unabashed, sipped the air of his election tonic.

Blair and Brown did not sit too closely to each other – after all, the organ grinder had not delivered the 1p income tax cut that Blair is mooted to have wanted.

But both were resplendent in matching red ties – left-winger Dennis Skinner, by contrast, chose salmon for his.

Then the bovver boy rose to his feet. Appealing to those with grey rather than shiny heads, Hague&#39s first specific mention was of pension funds, which, with characteristic charm, he referred to as having been “clobbered”.

Hague was, however, in two minds about the Budget. Could it be both a cynical pre-election stunt and the same as before? Never mind, the Conservatives&#39 election strategy emerged with one-dimensional clarity – harp on about stealth taxes and hope the charge of New Labour dishonesty will get legs. But perhaps Hague is right.

Charles Kennedy, bless him, walked straight into a New Labour mirage, welcoming the Chancellor&#39s “emphasis” on Isas. Of course, there was nothing new in the Chancellor&#39s reference but, nevertheless, it sounded good.

The opening salvoes of the general election have been traded.

Gordon&#39s gin or Hague&#39s whisky? Pick your poison.

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