Bernard Ingham: Open the red case, George, and tell it like it really is...

GET out of this one, George. That is the challenge facing Chancellor Osborne in presenting his Budget today.

Bernard Ingham outlines the Budget that George Osborne should be brave enough to deliver.

I fear the Gods have been conspiring against him.

The global economic outlook remains cruelly uncertain. The European Central Bank is printing euros like stamps to 
try to finance the eurozone out of its torpor.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The most unprincipled nations of the world – the oil producers of the Middle East, with the exception of Jordan and Lebanon – are fighting a destabilising global battle for their share of the oil market while doing nothing to curb terrorism or stem the migration tsunami to the West. Meanwhile, the evil Vladimir Putin stirs the pot.

As if that were not enough, the EU referendum, with its election atmosphere and need for a “popular” Budget, finds Osborne with about half his party ranged against him for wanting Britain to remain a member.

Ever felt your back to the wall, George?

Against this testing background, the following is the key part of the speech he should make, but mostly won’t.

“Mr Speaker, I present my budget for the year against a background of continuing global economic and political uncertainty. I shall be brief before going into details.

My continuing watchword must be financial prudence, which was noticeably lacking from 2000-2010. The overriding need is to ensure that we meet the legal requirement to balance our nation’s books by 2020.

Over the last five years in coalition, we did half the job of eliminating Labour’s monumental £156bn budget deficit. We now have to finish it. This is not to make our accounts look neat and tidy but because we are more vulnerable in crises while in deficit.

We are also wasting some of the tax 
you pay to find the interest on these billions of pounds of borrowed cash. 
That interest is dead money. It stands in the way of more investment in growth, the North’s development, reduced taxation and better welfare for the elderly.

The problem I face is that, apart from the anti-austerity leader of the Opposition, his profligate militants and the SNP, most people agree with me.

Or, at least, they do so until they howl they have become a victim of cuts.

They don’t want the waste, but they don’t want the so-called pain of ending it either.

I have just seen, for example, a letter by a Labour local authority leader praising to the skies their achievements in spite of a “50 per cent” cut in government grant over six years.

Not a word about why reductions have been necessary: because Labour tried to buy the electorate by splashing their money around like water from a never-ending stream.

I have to balance the need for further cuts in spending with what is reasonable and sensitive.

I must also give due warning: we shall not stand idly by while local government tries to make political capital out of cuts that hurt most – in services to the sick, elderly and disabled.

We have had enough of this hypocrisy and will expose it wherever local authorities and other institutions save money at the expense of the vulnerable, leaving their reserves untouched.

Meanwhile, thanks to our policies, the British economy is the best major performer in Europe. Unemployment is coming down and the number in work is at record levels.

But we have to keep it growing if we are to afford a decent health service, an improving educational performance, properly look after the frail and improve the nation’s infrastructure while coping with the pressures of migration.

As things stand – and until we clear the deficit – money remains tight.

The substantial savings I propose across the board of government spending have to be seen in this light. They are not because Scrooge has appeared early. They are to safeguard our future.

Where I can find money to spend it will go on encouraging independence, strivers and further growth.

One of the situations I have to watch is, for example, the rundown of the North Sea oil industry because of the Opec-induced slump in oil prices that has, incidentally, landed the SNP with a whopping deficit. So much for their prudence.

To stop the Opec cartel destabilising the world economy, we need more – not less – oil and gas elsewhere to secure a measure of independence.

Opponents of fracking should think about this. Do they want prosperity or not?

Take heed of Mr Micawber: ‘Annual income £20. Annual expenditure £19.19.6d. Result: happiness. Annual income £20. Annual expenditure
 £20 nought and sixpence. Result: misery’.”