Who do you trust more to handle the public finances? This is the most pertinent question a pollster can ask. Regardless of how big a lead Labour has in the polls – and trust me that lead is not nearly as big as it should be at this stage of a Parliament – Ed Miliband and Ed Balls still trail David Cameron and George Osborne when it comes to the question of economic competency. If they don’t start eating in to this lead, then the 2015 election will be tighter than most ‘experts’ are already predicting.
Which leads me to the Budget. The media has begun its countdown to the 20 March. The starting pistol was fired on Friday night following the news that a ratings agency had downgraded Britain’s AAA rating for the first time in 35 years. Some on the Right predictably called for a change in direction based on tax cuts for everyone and fewer regulations. Ed Balls responded by admitting that Labour would borrow more to boost growth if they were in government.
Osborne is left in somewhat of a dilemma. He must produce a Budget that is attractive to two audiences. Firstly, he has to come up with an initiative which will be seen as fair to the ordinary person trying to get on in life or the ‘striver’ (a word that I object to – when was the last time you heard someone in the pub use it?). Secondly, he needs to give his party something that keeps the attack dogs at bay. You only have to look at anonymous briefings from “senior sources in the party” over the weekend to see that there is more than an iota of discontent towards the Chancellor’s performance to date.