Peter Hoskin

Darling and Brown get away with it

Darling and Brown get away with it
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Strange days, indeed.  While most of the frontpages today are unflattering for Labour – particularly, and unsurprisingly, those of the Telegraph and the Sun – I imagine that Brown & Co. will be quite pleased with the general tone of the Budget coverage.  Much of it mirrors the Independent's view that Darling "played a weak hand well".  Or, elsewhere, there's a kind of detached indifference about what is described as a "boring" Budget.

Yes, if you like, you can take that as proof that the Darling-and-Mandelson approach to the public finances is less politically toxic, and a good degree more sensible, than the Balls-and-Brown approach.  But, to my mind, it also represents a general failure of the media, and of Labour's poltical opposition, to hold the government to account.  It is, as Danny Finkelstein wrote in the Times yesterday, nothing short of scandalous that Darling is delaying his spending review until after the election.  Yet that point is repeated all too seldom today.  Indeed, the Guardian even says that "Just weeks before an election, [Darling] was never likely to spell out plans for spending cuts."  Never likely, perhaps - but it's no less forgiveable.

To be fair, I think the Tories have been quite punchy and incisive in their response to the Budget.  But they aren't helped by the fact that they either can't or won't give more detail on their own fiscal plans – and that, going off what we do know so far, those plans are all too similar to Labour's.  The abiding consolation is that – as I pointed out last year, and Anthony Wells details here – Budgets don't tend to produce poll bounces for the government.  But I doubt that will do anything to stem Labour's growing belief that the game is still very much on.