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Budgets, Balls, billionaires and Susan Boyle

Posted on 19 April 2009 | 12:04pm

It is the normal fate of Chancellors, on the Sunday before a Budget, to see the newspapers plastered with predictions of its contents.

Today, you have to work well into the inside pages before finding out what Alistair Darling may or, more likely given how tightly the Budget is held, may not, be thinking. Instead the fall out from Damian McBride’s activities and the policing of the G20 Summit continues to dominate. The relief that may give Alistair as he works on his speech is about the only good thing that can be said of the rolling coverage of smears and emails, on which Neil Kinnock was excellent on the TV this morning.

With so much focus on spin, it is worth pointing out that one of Alistair’s strengths is his mild aversion to the presentational side of modern politics. What he announces, and the impact it makes, will be more important than how he announces it or the headlines the day after, let alone several days before.

But what the G20 showed is that proper preparation, the facing up to big difficult decisions, and the sense that our politicians are properly focussed on things that really matter to people, can have a positive impact on confidence, give direction and purpose to politics. The stalling of that has been part of the real political damage done by recent events.

This week he has to set out where we are, how we got here, and how we now move forward. The more factual and candid he is, the more likely he is to be heard.

I see both Alistair and I appear in a list of people allegedly smeared or briefed against by a unit run by Ed Balls. All I cay say is if so, I was unaware of it.

But, showing there is still money around despite economic woes, and still goodness among public figures, my attention was caught by the story a few columns away, about how David Sainsbury has become the first Briton to give away more than a billion pounds to charity.

Lord Sainsbury is one of those rare examples of someone who transferred well from a successful business career to a successful ministerial career. He was always a delight to work with when I was in Number 10, and a superb science minister. And no, that is not an invitation for him to become the next to sign up to my attempts to get fifty individuals or organisations to give fifty thousand pounds to celebrate Leukaemia Research’s fiftieth anniversary. That will come separately!

Finally, if politicians tend to read the Sunday papers with a mix of horror and trepidation, one person who must read them week after week with a sense of his own skills in shaping the popular culture agenda is Simon Cowell. The overnight sensation that is Susan Boyle and her 25 million YouTube hits is the latest chapter in Cowell’s story.

If there is a lesson from her success for politicians, it is authenticity. It is the only communication that works.

  • Obnoxio The Clown

    Despite your hagiography of Dave S, Britain has collapsed as a desirable option for scientific research in the world. Dave S has been no more use than any other Labour minister, i.e., no use at all.

  • Stuart Le Gassick


    Well written and I agree with your sentiment Neil Kinnock was correct in his comments on ‘the Andrew Marr Show’ this morning and obviously I must endorse the generosity of Lord Sainsbury!! What has annoyed me this week is the Icelandic Governmental Advisors taking control over a Tax Haven company with debts of some £600 million financed totally by Kaupting Bank which is where our councils andGovernment was investing our money. In Somerset aslone some £25 million was invested because there was a better rate of interes. Itis even more interesting to know that the Tax Haven Company was controlled by an Iranian Speculator who was betting the market with CFD’s (Contracts for Differences)
    Now the tax payer covers the downsides of gamblers!!!
    Where is the commonsense and who is responsible for such stupidity???

  • Alan Macrae

    The tragedy is that even something like the budget gets drowned by all this detritus. The questio I would like to ask is why some of these people were in Downning Street at all?

  • Jill Harrison

    Isee they were also talking about in The Loop on the programme. The actor looked very different to how he is in the film. Do you basically take it as a compliment that everyone says the main character is based on you? I think you should!

  • Sue Marshall

    Authenticity? And Simon Cowell? Autentically what?

  • jayprich

    In the case of emotional connection with her public, Susan Boyle is an exemplar. However, Darling in his position needs to sound as positively optimistic as he can credibly manage.

    Honesty about the complex situation of Europe and the banks’ balance sheets is hard to communicate without panicking the non-expert.

    In my view an honest open statement could be misunderstood. It would be disastrous if individuals with savings all bought gold. That would cause a gold bubble which would then collapse like the late 1970s.

    We should each aim for a sustainable lifestyle assuming the government will do what is necessary with regulation, fiscal and monetary policy to stabilise the system … but that may cause price and wage inflation after some years and it will not “reflate” activity in the real economy. We must plan for and expect expect time, a long time, before savings, investment and growth have filled in the hole caused by the collapse of the global, debt fuelled, equity and real estate bubbles.

    Stark facts aren’t enough – he needs to educate and advise the public on what risks they face and keep contingency in there to head off further speculative or fear driven panics that incomplete knowledge or understanding is apt to spark.


  • Em

    I know I wouldn’t want to be in Mr. Darling’s shoes, new** or not. Pre-budget speculation is useless and irritating. I always wait to read the real thing.

    I guess Mr. Darling’s no nonsense approach explains why I seldom hear from him. He is obviously not one of those BBC whores. Sometimes, I wonder whether some MPs spend more time in television and radio studios than in parliament.

    Much talk about “In the Loop” over the weekend. Yours is the only bad review I’ve read — now that is telling 😉

    Boyle is so unspoiled. Can’t believe it’s going to last long. Can’t imagine anyone remains a (metaphorical) virgin around Simon Cowell for very long. Don’t know how inauthentic he is but he has admitted to have been thinking “kerching” ever since Boyle. Fair enough.

    **Canada is a parliamentary democracy as well. Here, the finance minister must sport brand new footwear as she delivers the budget speech and she must drink a full glass of gin (or whisky) before, during or after the delivery of the speech. Wondering whether the tradition comes from the U.K and whether it is still respected.

  • Jane A

    The media are positioning the most important political melee as the Blairite and Brownite Labour factions against each other (who has briefed against ; smeared against ; muttered against/ sided with etc) – and it is such a damaging distraction. Even the Georgia Gould/Erith situation was played in those terms by the Times yesterday.

    European elections ahead, BNP dusting off their clean white T-shirts, and yet the Sundays are just rehashing the Tuesdays. Didn’t buy a paper today – have better things to do with £1.20 than fund this rubbish.

  • Alina Palimaru

    My only fear regarding the budget coverage is that the Tories will get an easy ride again. I am convinced no one will grill them on their budgetary strategy, in order to expose them for the flip-floppers that they really are. I have been reading some of their policy papers, and the Tories should apologize for making anyone read through that pile of rubbish.

  • Wyrdtimes

    Are you an “authentic” Scot? Or an Englishman in denial?

  • kdbur

    I want to see Camerons huge wealth (10’s of millions) being put out to the public. That is not a smear it is a sign that Cameron’s lifestyle is ‘miles away’ from the lives of the UK public who are thinking of voting for him next year

  • betty curtis

    The BBC are a disgrace.
    Today in the Observer–
    James Robinson’s reports—Scent of victory puts PR firms on the hunt for Tory big beasts—
    The new arrivals at the BBC are all Conservative supporters in executive roles such as John Tate,director of policy & strategy—
    Now we know why the BBC reports against Labour are no different from Sky reporting—
    I noticed male newscasters fitted out with their blue ties on Sky News.
    Probably part of the psychology they want to project.
    They want to prove they can bring the Government down.
    We know what’s happening within the Tory Media—–
    Let’s get on with winning the political argument for a fourth term.

  • Brendan

    Last week on Newsnight, Ken Livinstone took the shadow home secretary apart. Why is this experienced, talented and popular labour politician not part of Labour’s fightback?

  • Andy G

    @Betty Curtis

    Look at the number of Conservatives or known right wingers who front the BBC’s politcal coverage on TV and Radio already. The BBC seem to be working on the assumption the Conservatives have the next election won already and they better not upset or challenge them too much in case it effects any future license fee settlement.

    If the Conservatives were getting as much negative coverage on the BBC as The Labour Party are at the moment, they would be screaming ‘bias’ to anyone who would listen.

    Perhaps The Labour Party should examine whether the coverage from the BBC is what you would expect from a public service broadcaster.