Friday 22 March 2013

The media’s reaction to Budget 2013

After George Osborne’s politically disastrous ‘omnishambles’ of a budget last year, did he manage to redeem himself this week? It was never going to be a particularly radical budget because, one, he has no money to spend, and two, he told Tory MPs recently "Look, I tried radicalism in last year’s Budget, and I had blowback for it. So I’d take quite some persuading to do something radical this time." Analysis of the budget so far has not found anything particularly controversial. In fact, probably the most contentious aspect was that the Evening Standard broke the embargo on many announcements by tweeting its front page before the Osborne even stood up. The Labour frontbench all had photocopies of the paper while the Chancellor was speaking much to his annoyance.

The relationship between the media and government is particularly tense at the moment, given the measures to regulate the press following the Leveson Inquiry, brokered by the three main parties.

Most of the media front pages were positive, and focused on the ‘Help to Buy’ property scheme, a policy influenced from Thatcher’s ‘Right to Buy’ scheme. The right-wing papers saw the potential to address the social mobility of many people looking to buy a house, while the business press worried over the Chancellor creating another housing bubble with risky mortgages backed by the government – sound familiar anyone? However the Sun’s response has been particularly interesting. Throughout March it has been campaigning vigorously to ‘scrap the beer tax’ – essentially end the beer duty escalator. On the day of the budget they appeared to be happy, online at least, that the escalator had been scrapped. But if Osborne was hoping this was a budget that would appeal to Sun readers he will not be very happy with yesterday’s front page. Not one positive announcement is mentioned. It even mentions alcohol, but only the tax rises on wine and spirits and not the beer tax cut. It is hard-hitting to say the least and was a way for the paper to vent their frustration over members of the press not being allowed to attend the regulation talks when representatives of the pro-regulation Hacked Off campaign were present. The Sun, being Britain’s most popular paper, is very influential. This front page was brutal.

While not all the coverage was positive – particularly in The Sun – my guess is Osborne is probably glad not to be the story this time round.

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