David Maddox: Budget was a done deal before Osborne was even elected

WHILE both of the partners in the coalition government have spent the last few weeks wringing their hands and declaring that the situation was far worse than they thought, the reality is that yesterday's Budget had been planned since before the general election.

A brief look at either the Tory or Liberal Democrat manifestos shows they include many of the Budget measures, such as raising the threshold on income tax or attacking public sector pensions.

But, more importantly, civil servants at the Treasury had been looking at the parties' proposals months before the election to see how they could work. There were units preparing for an emergency Budget before the election was even called.

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This was not surprising, considering the country was facing the most open and unpredictable general election in years. And contrary to popular myth that civil servants have nothing to do with savings themselves, the former occupant of 11 Downing Street, Alistair Darling, let it slip in a briefing on Monday that work was being carried out within the Treasury to come up with new ideas on tackling the deficit.

He described some as "not fit for public consumption", but also made it clear that this was why he was so confident during the election that the Conservatives would have to raise VAT to 20 per cent, a prediction he got right.

He also was able to predict accurately that benefits would be linked to a lower, less generous rate of inflation, not because he had seen it in any party manifesto but because it was an idea dreamt up in the Treasury which had been presented to him before the election.

So, despite the arguments over whether or not the economy is in a worse state than anybody thought, the reality of Tuesday's Budget is that almost all of it was worked out in some form or other weeks and probably months ago.

All that George Osborne and Danny Alexander had to do was to put the pieces together and decide what would go in and what was too unpalatable.