Whose career prospects will look better tonight?
This afternoon’s budget looks set to become the first one for many decades when there’ll be almost as much interest in the response of the Leader of the Opposition as in the contents of the Chancellor’s statement itself.
For this will be the first time that David Cameron has faced Gordon Brown across the floor of the House in what is likely to be a foretaste of things to come. How will Brown’s extraordinary experience and economic record fare when pitted against the young ex-PR man who has been in the Commons for less than five years?
Cameron will be the fourth Tory leader that Brown has had to face during his nine year tenure in the job and no doubt a lot of thought will have gone into getting his approach this afternoon just right. It is after all a budget statement and direct attacks on Cameron might be quite hard to weave in. But Brown is not going to let this opportunity pass by.
The challenge for opposition leaders on these occasions is that they’ve got to make a big set-piece speech after being given very little advance information about what is in the Budget. Though today’s news of a Â£2.3bn record February shortfall in the public finances gives Cameron something to get his teeth into.
The Tory leader’s approach is to focus on the media battle rather than the argument in the Commons and his Notting Hill team will have been working hard on super sound-bites for tonight’s bulletins. Watch out for something like the “you were the future once” put-down that Cameron used about Blair in his first PMQs.
With his campaign launch, the Blackpool Conference speech and his first PMQs Cameron has performed reasonably well with his set-pieces although a lot of it has been carefully worked out in advance. This afternoon might be a tougher challenge.
Following Cameron Sir Menzies Campbell will be next on his feet giving the Lib Dem response. He wants to make an impact too in his first budget debate as leader.
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