Peter Hoskin

All quiet on the Westminster front

All quiet on the Westminster front
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If there's one thing distinguishing this morning, then it's just how placid everything feels.  The clouds are moving sluggishly across the sky; there's little excitement about the measures expected in the Budget; and there are no stories about rifts between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor.  Indeed, Downing St insiders tell the FT that relations between Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling have been "pretty good" in the run up to the Budget, because both are "broadly agreed on the strategy of halving the deficit in four years while backing growth initiatives."

Many are taking this as a sign that Darling and Peter Mandelson have won out in their efforts to coax Brown away from the crude "investment vs cuts" thinking of yesteryear.  And it's true: the early emphasis has been on getting borrowing down and, consequently, it doesn't sound as though today will be a spending bonanza (even if we should keep an eye on how much several new "guarantees" will cost the government).  Labour know that they have to restrain their typical profligacy, otherwise the media response will be one of scorn and derision.

But, as always, you shouldn't fall for the hype. Just because their aren't many giveaways and "christmas trees," as Darling put it at the weekend, it doesn't mean that the government has a credible plan for getting us out of our debt nightmare.  For that, we would need greater clarity, detail and depth of spending cuts.  We would need, as Danny Finkelstein writes in the Times today, a full spending review.  We would need promises that carry more weight than just saying you'll cut the deficit in half in four years.  We would need ... well, you get the picture.

It would be good news if Darling rose to the challenge today, and genuinely broke free from the deceits and inadequacies of the Brown years.  But the alternative is a "workmanlike" Budget, which cleaves closely to the contours of the Pre-Budget Report, and remains inadequate to our fiscal situation.  I know which of those my money's on.