Martin Bright

The Darling Buds of April

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I have stolen the headline to this post from a breakfast discussion held by "reputation management firm" Fishburn Hedges, where I was a guest speaker this week. Me and my fellow panelists were there to talk about the budget  (coming your way on April 22nd) and give some idea of how the media gears up to the great day. I suggested that part of the problem with newspaper Budget coverage is that political journalists know very little about economics.

Robert Cole, a senior writer at the Times and the man who has run the paper's Budget coverage for many, many years, explained the excitement of the day and his biggest fear - theat nothing happens. Alistair Smith, who runs the media operation for Barclays explained how the big financial institutions gear up their response. Both were very entertaining despite the rather gloomy subject matter and economic outlook.

But for me the star turn was George Buckley, UK Chief Economist at Deutsche Bank , who explined the gravity of the situation with admirable clarity. I hope my notes and minimal knowledge of economics do him justice. Buckley explained that the worst year for growth in recent memory was 1980-1, when it increased by just one per cent. The latest predictions suggest that this year it will have shrunk by two per cent. He went on to suggest that the classic conditions for a full-scale depression already exist: starting the cycle with high levels of debt amid deflationary conditions. He then pointed out that the pre-budget report indicated that there was an eight per cent trade deficit (something with caused a sharp intake of breath inthe City at the time), but that the IMF beleives the figure is now nearer 11 per cent.

To have the economic situation expressed this starkly was something of  a shock to me.  I still haven't qute recovered. This Budget is being talked up as the "Budget for Jobs", but it is hard to see where Alistair Darling would find any extra cash to pay for job creation schemes, even if he wanted to go down that route. We all remember "the election that never was". This must not become the "Budget that never was".