The front page reaction to the Alistair Darling’s Budget is primarily along party lines. The Guardian says, “Keep calm and carry on” and highlights that “Labour reveals detail of £11bn cuts package”. The Daily Mirror calls him a “Safe pair of eyebrows” with a close up of his face and says “He taxes rich hardest”. The Times calls it “Nakedly political” with a cartoon paying homage to the famous poster for the Oscar-winning film ‘American Beauty’. The Telegraph calls it a “Tax raid on middle class … Darling grabs £19bn, but little sign of pre-election sweeteners”.
For the Financial Times, “Darling ducks deficit challenge”. The Sun excels itself with a reference to philandering stars: “Darling just screwed more people than JT, Ashley, Mark Owen and Tiger Woods”. While the Express becomes a party election poster for the Conservatives with a large quote from David Cameron and the headline, “A Budget of envy and spite”. Left Foot Forward has a summary of progressive reaction. The Tories’ lead in the YouGov tracker poll for The Sun, conducted before the Budget, is down to 2 per cent – the lowest lead in any poll since 2008.
Leading commentators are rather more positive but acknowledge that the big decisions on cuts were postponed. Martin Wolf in the FT says Darling did a “remarkable job” but the case was “ultimately not persuasive” and says, “the government bears substantial responsibility for the vulnerability of the economy and public finances”. CBI Chief Richard Lambert writes in the Times that Darling, “steered a rather clever course” between the electorate and the bond market but says the”worst is yet to come”. Nonetheless, he was clear on the question of when to cut: “it would be risky for the Government to slam on the spending brakes right now.” Will Hutton in the Guardian focuses on the growth package and calls it, “the first serious effort to support innovation and investment since the war”. He also highlights that, “similar – or exactly the same – ideas are being advanced by the Conservatives”. Examining the politics of the speech, Ben Brogan in the Telegraph says Labour will “fight to the death” while Steve Richards in the Independent says, “Darling delivered half a Budget and an entire election speech”.
Following revelations on Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, Geoff Hoon has been asked to leave his NATO advisory post. “It was the British Government that nominated Mr Hoon to be one of the group of 12 experts and he has served there with distinction,” James Appathurai told reporters in Brussels. “However, given that it is clear the British Government no longer supports Mr Hoon’s participation, the Secretary-General has decided to ask Mr Hoon to end his participation.” The Times quotes Mr Hoon: “I am disappointed that I won’t see it [the project] through to its conclusion.”
The Telegraph outlines that council tax rises of 1.8 per cent will be “the lowest annual rise since the tax was introduced in 1993/94”. John Denham, Local Government Secretary, said the below-inflation hike has been made possible by a 4 per cent increase in central funding for councils from next month. Caroline Spelman, shadow spokeswoman for communities and local government, said council tax had more than doubled under Labour. The Sun‘s rehashes this line with a headline that reads: “Council tax doubles … the average bill in England is set to soar by another £25.”
The Israeli government will not be allowed to replace the Mossad diplomat expelled from London over the cloning of British passports unless it guarantees that identity cloning will never happen again, reports the Independent. The Israeli government has shown no signs so far that it will agree to Mr Miliband’s demand but the Telegraph suggests that Israel is keen to placate Britain while it is facing the United States’ wrath over its building plans in occupied East Jerusalem. The Times reports that other countries – including Australia and possibly Ireland, France, and Germany – are considering taking similar action to Britain.
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