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Highland Letter: Hunting Where The Ducks Are

Just where SKY News found its inspiration for it's latest gimmick (or innovation as they prefer to call it) is hard to say.

If you ask me 'the w.o.r.m.' looks suspiciously like the infamous worm from the TVNZ Holmes debate during the 1996 campaign.

SKY News however is a much slicker operation, this is no ordinary worm, this is in fact a 'witness opinion response monitor'– TVNZ would be hard pressed to be as flash.

When the Chancellor Gordon Brown delivers his fifth budget on Wednesday it is clear that 'the w.o.r.m', in whatever guise, will not cause him the same distraction that the NZ worm caused Mr Bolger.

With a foot and mouth epidemic placing an overwhelming financial and emotional toll on rural communities, Tony Blair does not look to be swayed from a May 3rd election date.

And the Budget plays an important part in the pre-election build-up.

The recent outbreak of foot and mouth and yet another tragic rail crash last week has overshadowed much of the usual pre-Budget coverage.

Despite the devastating nature of foot and mouth, the battle to contain the disease seems to be slowly being won by officials and the political parties are doing their bit by keeping any comments strangely politically neutral.

While the sombre mood of the nation prevails, (and in Scotland it is hard to conceive that it could become more sombre after the thrashing the Scottish rugby team received at the hands of the English in the weekend) Gordon Brown has remained resolute, vowing that there will be no pre-election giveaways to tempt the large number of undecided voters to the Labour fold.

But as with everything Labour says and especially with Gordon Brown, there is always another meaning.

While no one expects the super-prudent Chancellor to start throwing gold coins in the streets, neither does anyone expect him to let the chance of spreading some pre-election good cheer go by.

However benevolent the Chancellor may seem on Wednesday, lurking in the dark recesses of Mr Brown's mind will be more than generosity and goodwill.

Surely what puts the fire in Gordon Brown's belly on the eve of this Budget is the possibility that he could emerge after Wednesday as the Chancellor who secured the historic second term victory for Labour and who could almost secure himself as the leader in waiting in the process.

While Tony Blair will want Brown to do well on Wednesday, at the back of his mind I'm sure he doesn’t want him to do that well.

With a surplus of around £4billion at his disposal, Gordon Brown is hardly short of financial options and he is expected to increase spending and cut taxes but with a very specific cut and spend agenda in mind.

Gordon Brown has said that this will not be a boom and bust government, clearly harbouring ghosts of Labour Governments past in his words.

The big winners are expected to be, not surprisingly, pensioners, families and children.

Who could vote against Labour when they are so generous to the elderly and oh, bless, they really do care about our children, so family friendly!

Nevermind that until six months ago, the only benefit pensioners had received from Labour was a 75pence increase on their weekly pension.

Nevermind that under Labour, families have seen their disposable income all but dry up under a barrage of stealth taxes.

Nevermind that several of Labour's much touted five election pledges have not been met.

Nevermind that this Government polled last month as being sleazier than any recent Tory Government.

Okay, probably not an issue that any Tory should feel that smug about but who foresaw in 1997, when Tony and Cherie swept into No. 10 on the wave of a massive anti-Tory vote, that the backlash would be so delightfully full circle?

Labour is of course hoping that the public's memory will be reliably short.

The reality of this Budget is that any relief Labour provide on Wednesday will be minor in comparison to the tax burden it has placed on businesses and families since 1997.

Gordon Brown has yet to be convinced that Britain could benefit economically by making substantial tax cuts for businesses and families.

He sees far more economic sense in spending £36 billion on joining the Euro.

Last century an American President argued his case for tax cuts, noting that tax relief is fair to all citizens because a better economy benefits all.

The President, addressing Congress, continued by arguing that America could afford to cut taxes but could not afford to do nothing.

Not the usual words we have come to expect to hear from a Democratic President, but when Gordon Brown delivers the Budget tomorrow he would benefit from heeding those words spoken in 1962 by President Kennedy.

Least history judges the Chancellor as having developed his own case of foot and mouth.


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