I had intended to write a review of Gideon’s budget today. However, having listened to the Chancellor’s performance on the radio with edited highlights simulcast on Twitter, I now think I’d prefer to watch old people eat. But the occasion got me thinking – is announcing a budget the ultimate communications challenge, particularly as it’s the law that budgets aren’t allowed to meet with universal appreciation?
First of all, a budget worth the label is going to have an impact on everyone in the country – whether they’re rich or poor, young or old, working, unemployed or retired, married or single, sociable or teetotal. When you simmer it down, a budget either puts money into your pocket or it takes money out. If you smoke, drink and drive a car, a budget is always going to declare war on your wallet.
A budget, in other words, has to create winners and losers – every chancellor knows that if they take money out of everybody’s pockets equally, there will be little to please the team on the front pages of the next day’s newspapers.
The party of government will welcome the detail with enthusiasm and occasional cheers, while the opposition will disagree on principle, even if privately they’re impressed with some of the decisions. Furthermore, as soon as the Chancellor has finished delivering the budget, it’s traditional for the Leader of the Opposition to stand up to pick holes in it. This theatrical staging helps liven up what could otherwise be a dry event and helps create storylines for the press.
The media go large on budget day. Not only is the only day in the year when the non business reporters need calculators to write their stories, but it’s mandatory to discover a number of ‘typical’ families by income bracket to illustrate the impact the budget will have on various social groups.
Business leaders will also take a view on whether the terms are good or bad, while city analysts and brokers have to get busy modelling the impact so as to advise their clients on what to think and how to react.
Budgets are complex. With so many diverging hopes and fears, trying to craft messages that have a snowball’s chance in hell of satisfying the various audiences is a vain hope. That, in case you were wondering, is why we have seen so many leaks of the details over the last few days – it’s otherwise too much for anyone to absorb sensibly on a single day.
So hats off to the comms teams behind the budgets, whoever and wherever they are. Whether they win, lose or draw, they take on a huge challenge each and every time. Not everyone would have the stamina or the stomach for it.
And what a shame that it will all be forgotten come the weekend.