Peter Hoskin

Brown shouldn’t expect a Budget bounce

Brown shouldn't expect a Budget bounce
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A thought-provoking article from Martin Kettle in today's Guardian.  He makes the point that the worsening economy, and a heavy defeat for Labour in this year's European elections, could encourage calls for a national government.  But he also mentions the moments when Team Brown might expect to claw back some ground on the Tories:

"The 2009 political calendar offers a few openings for ministers to take charge of the agenda, such as the G20 London summit and, more significantly, the budget, out of which a popular political leader might hope to conjure fresh support."

Here on Coffee House, we've already raised a sceptical eyebrow or two at the idea the G20 will give Brown a boost.  But what of this year's Budget?  Could that help Brown recoup some political capital?

The signs certainly aren't promising for Labour Central.  Looking back over the historical polling data - particularly over the New Labour era - shows that the weeks after Budgets don't tend to deliver significant poll gains for the government.  I'll leave a rigorous analysis to a numbers genius like Anthony Wells, but it's worth homing in on the poll numbers around Budget 2007, when Brown unveiled his 2p cut in the basic rate of income tax to much fanfare*.  Despite Brown's cynically populist measures, the polls remained relatively unmoved.  The Times/Populus series gave the Tories an 8 point lead before and after the Budget; ICM/Guardian had the Tory lead cut by 3 points; and YouGov/Sunday Times saw the Tory lead increase by one.

Now, this isn't to say that Brown couldn't pull something out of the bag this time around.  But the odds are certainly against him making a game-changing impression - especially considering the state of the economy and the public finances; and the fact that, after the 10p tax debacle, there's more attention paid to the stings in the footnotes.

*Yes, I know he abolished the 10p starting rate too, but that only got the media attention it deserved a year later.