Budget 2012: Weird And Wonderful Budget Facts

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Everything you needed to know about the Budget
Everything you needed to know about the Budget

The course of a true Budget never did run smooth. Here are some of the weird and wonderful facts about Budgets which have been delivered every year - sometimes more than once a year - for more than two centuries.

Budget origins:

The word comes from the French "bougette", a little bag, which explains why the Chancellor "opens" his Budget.

The scarlet briefcase was made for Gladstone in 1860 and was used by every Chancellor since, until James Callaghan (the only Chancellor to have worked for the Inland Revenue) who in 1965 and 1966 used a "vulgar brown valise" bearing the monogram EIIR. That, too, was abandoned and the Tories returned to the original. But Gordon Brown had a new Budget bag made by young craftsmen.

Gladstone, who served a record 12 years as Chancellor, was said to hug the bag to his breast "with a kind of affectionate yearning suggesting the love of a mother for an infant". But more likely it was to keep the Budget secrets from the prying eyes of Queen Victoria.

When Norman Lamont was Chancellor in the early 1990s, the bag which was waved at photographers outside No 11 contained a bottle of whisky, while the speech itself was carried in a plastic bag by his then aide, William Hague. "It would have been a major disaster if the bag had fallen open," Mr Hague said later.

Record breakers:

The longest Budget speech was four hours 45 minutes by Gladstone in 1853, during which he was fortified by a potent mix of egg and sherry. The previous year Disraeli spoke for almost the same length of time, a speech delivered under the influence of milk.

The shortest Budget was Disraeli's in 1867: 45 minutes. Only one Chancellor has failed to deliver a Budget, Tory Iain Macleod, who died in 1970 shortly after his appointment.

Gordon Brown's 2000 Budget of 51 minutes was almost certainly the shortest since Victorian days.

Parliamentary reporter Sir Alexander Mackintosh sat through 60 Budgets, from 1881 to 1941. He sighed after that ordeal: "Speeches get shorter as figures get bigger."

Budget calamities:

The vast George Ward Hunt arrived at the Commons in 1869 and opened the Budget box to find, to his consternation, that he had left his speech at home. Hunt, at 21 stone, was the largest Chancellor on record. Disraeli had to reassure Queen Victoria that "he has the sagacity of the elephant as well as its form". Unfortunately he did not have the memory of an elephant on that terrible day: he lasted six months in the job.

Nigel Lawson had two mishaps during his period as Chancellor. One Budget was suspended because of uproar after the Scottish Nationalists intervened. On another occasion, Lawson stopped in his tracks mid-sentence: this time his staff had put the pages in the wrong order.

And Lloyd George's voice ran out of steam after the first three-and-a-half hours of his 1909 People's Budget, arguably the most unpopular Budget speech in history. He was allowed 30 minutes to refresh his dulcet Welsh vocal cords. In the first instance this Budget was thrown out by the Lords, after having endured 549 divisions which occupied 90 hours of voting time.

Derick Heathcoat-Amory collapsed in 1960 while delivering a Budget. But he was responsible for one of the best Budget one-liners: "There are three things not worth running for - a bus, a woman or a new economic panacea. If you wait a bit, another one will come along."

Infamous Budget leaks:

Hugh Dalton, just after the war, leaked key parts of his 1947 Budget to one John Carvel, a reporter on the old London evening paper, The Star. But the Chancellor under-estimated the speed at which newspapers work. News of a penny on a pint of beer and a tax on dog racing appeared in the paper before Dalton had reached that point in his speech. He resigned the following day, with prime minister Clement Attlee calling him "a perfect ass".

Jimmy Thomas, a member of a pre-war Cabinet, was playing golf with a City man, Sir Alfred Butt, who was also a Tory MP. With a wink, Thomas said: "Tee up!" The City man took the hint and insured himself at Lloyd's against an increase in the tax on tea. He collected. But Thomas paid the price and resigned from the Baldwin Government and subsequently from the Commons. It also ended Sir Alfred's political career.

Kenneth Clarke's final Budget in November 1996 was leaked almost in is entirety, on the eve of its presentation, to the Daily Mirror newspaper. The Mirror refused to publish the contents, conscientiously returning it to the Treasury.

Other Budget trivia:

John Major's one and only Budget in 1990 was the first to be televised live.

Sir Geoffrey Howe, Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1979-1983, named his dog Budget.

In his 1953 Budget Chancellor RA Butler announced that the sugar ration would be increased from 10oz to 12oz a week to help the nation make celebratory cakes for the Queen's Coronation that year.

What some of them drank while delivering Budgets: Winston Churchill was a brandy man, while Hugh Dalton relied on milk and rum. Selwyn Lloyd supped whisky and water, while Hugh Gaitskell relied on orange juice with a dash of rum.

But Rab Butler, Harold Macmillan, and Peter Thorneycroft, all Tories, made do with water from the tap.

A Chancellor delivering his Budget is the only MP allowed to take alcohol in the chamber.

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