Leaks, leaks, leaks

Oh, Gordon Bennett!

Labour's Chris Leslie is thundering away in the Commons about the extensive leaking of the Budget as I write. This - of course - never happened in the Labour years. I well remember how punctilious ministers were in those days about making announcements in the House, rather than in the studios of the Today programme or to favoured journalists or in press conferences. Not.

In fairness, the sheer comprehensiveness of the recent crop of leaks (everything but the bit about pensions) is unprecedented. But it's an incremental advance on past practice, rather than a quantum leak, er, leap. I daresay that the leaking owed much to the scramble for credit within the Coalition. But the custom and practice which forced the resignation of Clem Attlee' s Chancellor Hugh Dalton over a budget leak, back in 1947, is as dead as a doornail.

Which is why one of the silliest rituals of the 2010 Parliament is the complaint of ex-ministers from the last government, who leaked like sieves in office, about current ministers doing what they did; while the current ministers who complained bitterly in the last Parliament now do exactly what they objected to then. The butter doesn't melt in any of their mouths; indeed, it probably freezes solid.

Do MPs have any idea how silly this sanctimonious exchange of faux outrage looks to anyone with a functioning memory?

A couple of other Budget thoughts.

It may not quite amount to an open source Budget, but one of the striking features of George Osborne's offering this week was the extent to which it picked up bright ideas from new-intake Tory backbenchers. Matthew Hancock, Mark Menzies and Ben Gummer have all seen proposals they floated in ten minute rule bills picked up by the Chancellor.

Thus there will be a relaxation of Sunday trading restrictions (Mark Menzies), a clampdown on offshore betting (Matthew Hancock), and a move towards annual statements to taxpayers detailing how their taxes were spent - listing, for example, the precise sum they, personally, have paid towards the NHS, welfare, overseas aid, debt interest, etc.

It is certainly encouraging for backbenchers to find ministers not only listening, but picking up some of their ideas. It follows on from the the remarkable decision to enact a stalking law on the basis of a report from an All Party Group. The Commons is exerting a bit more influence.

One less remarked feature of the Budget was the demeanour of Nick Clegg. The DPM sat in his usual place and gazed up towards some floating point around the visitors' gallery. He didn't smile, or cheer, or pat the Chancellor's arm when he sat down - something he has done in the past. His supporting presence at key parliamentary moments is one of the most visible symbols of coalition solidarity, he's there on the clips in the TV news and people notice, however subliminally, what he's doing. I'm sure that point has not escaped his team.

So I suspect Mr Clegg's body language was calculated. At the very least he's avoiding seeming over-pally with his coalition colleagues.

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