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John Stones – Money Marketing&#39s feature writer at the House of Commons

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

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

Oh, and the miners. Sorry Myner’s. Brown said he has accepted the suggestions of the Myner’s report making it easier for pension and life funds to invest in venture capital. But the former 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 (though less than last year) inhabited the speech, listened to with smug confidence from the benches behind the son of a preacher man.

When the organ grinder sat 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. Those wanting annuity reform, however, went thirsty. Gordon, unabashed, sipped the air of his election tonic.

Blair and Brown didn’t 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 bother-boy rose to his feet. Appealing to those with grey rather than shiny heads, William Hague first specific mention was of the pension funds — which, with characteristic charm he referred to having been, "clobbered". The Chancellor had already said that he intended to reward savers rather than penalising them. So had those new clothes had already been stolen?

Hague was however in two minds about the Budget. Could it both be a cynical pre-election stunt and the same as before? Never mind, the Conservatives’ election strategy emerged with one-dimensional clarity. Harp on about stealth taxes and hope that the charge of New Labour dishonesty will get legs.

Perhaps Hague had a point. Charles Kennedy, bless him, walked straight into a New Labour mirage. He welcomed the Chancellor’s "emphasis" on Isas. Of course there was nothing new in the Chancellor’s reference, but nevertheless it sounded good.

While the opening salvos of the general election have been traded, we can only be relieved that Gordon didn’t unbutton as much as we had been led to expect.


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