Budgets aren’t what they used to be. Once upon a time any advance whisper of the chancellor’s speech was a resignation matter. In 1936, cabinet minister Jimmy Thomas fell on his sword after being found guilty by a tribunal of inquiry of leaking budget proposals to a Conservative MP. Labour’s Hugh Dalton famously quit in 1947 after he divulged his plans to a lobby journalist on the eve of his speech.
Nowadays it’s very different, with the Treasury, once the most tight-lipped shop in Whitehall, leaking like a rusty drainpipe. Even in areas where, frankly, its expertise leaves much to be desired. Among the items trailed to journalists ahead of last week’s speech were the plans for a levy on firms to fight financial crime and what was billed – not entirely accurately – as a ‘£100m package for justice’.
Obviously the Gazette wanted more details of the good news. Our hacks got on to the Ministry of Justice, which told us all budget-related queries had to go through the Treasury – even though Obiter pointed out that it was highly unlikely the beancounters would know specifics about the Royal Commission on Justice (which was given £3m) and domestic abuse courts (£5m, to be trialled).
Nevertheless, Obiter called the Treasury, only to be told that, for detailed policy information, we were best off speaking to the Ministry of Justice. But not until tomorrow because, on budget day itself, the Treasury is supreme. On reflection, some things don’t change that much.