The challenge for George Osborne on Budget eve
How can a government possibly communicate one of the most complex financial plans of the year in a way that people who are not economists can understand?
Tomorrow, George Osborne, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, will present the government’s ‘emergency budget’ – basically the new business plan for United Kingdom plc. His audience is the entire voting population of the UK as well as our debtors and creditors abroad.
Usually delivered once a year, this is his major set-piece event: a speech giving the government’s annual financial statement, review of levels of taxation, future financial strategy and economic forecasts. It even has its own historic photo opportunity when the Chancellor holds aloft the red box containing the Budget report.
Osborne’s speech is expected to last about 90 minutes but, given the amount he must cover, some are surprised he does not take far longer. The longest Budget speech was by William Gladstone on 18 April 1853, lasting nearly five hours.
Alongside the speech is the publication of what is called The Red Book. This is the government’s analysis of the economy and summary of the Budget tax measures – it runs to an average of around 300 pages.
It must account for over £650 billion-worth of spending on areas such as health, education, defence, welfare, police, transport, administration and interest payments.
Dozens of the brightest minds in Britain have been working on the plans night and day since the new government came into power on May 12th. In the background lie intricate debates about rival political and economic beliefs.
Get the message?
One key issue on the eve of Budget day is this: can any Chancellor succeed? Is this not a communications challenge too far? While it is easy to relate to some parts, a large section of the debate is comprehensible only to students of economics. For example, Gordon Brown once discussed “endogenous growth theory” in a Budget speech (but was roundly mocked).
While both sides are supported by their own well-respected academics and businessmen, and both try to translate their arguments into layman’s terms, the Budget is an example of where the coming together of economic complexity and media event can be particularly problematic. When does simplification slip into propaganda?
- Do you think it is legitimate for a government to spend lots of money trying to communicate what it is doing and why? When it come sto technical matters, would you rather they just ‘get on with it’?
- If you were being told about a subject you didn’t understand, would you prefer an explanation that was too simple or too complex?
- You have one minute to explain a hobby, interest, complicated sporting rule or other topic of interest. Prepare your speech and then present it to the rest of the class.
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