Budget: For Osborne, this time it's personal

HAVING first entered the Treasury in the aftermath of the financial crisis and gone on to oversee significant cuts in public spending, none of George Osborne's Budgets have been delivered in easy circumstances.

George Osborne

And today’s Budget speech continues that trend as low global growth and a UK economy that continues to stutter look set to force the Chancellor into revising his spending plans for the next five years less than four months after setting them.

But Budget 2016 brings added pressure for Mr Osborne as his stewardship of the British economy increasingly becomes entwined with his ambitions to lead the Conservative Party.

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Theresa May and Boris Johnson are among the senior Conservatives likely to be standing in the way when David Cameron delivers on his promise to step down after a second term as Prime Minister.

But the biggest obstacle to Mr Osborne’s leadership ambitions would be any sense that the shine is wearing off his reputation as Chancellor.

His spending plans are balanced on a knife edge. An unexpected bonus courtesy of a change in economic forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibilty (OBR) handed the Chancellor £27 billion to help cushion the blow of cuts announced in his spending review in December.

The flipside, as we are likely to see today, is that a marginal change in those forecasts in the other direction can quickly produce a hole in those spending plans which needs to be filled with further spending reductions.

The UK economy being as little as 0.7 per cent smaller in 2020 than the OBR is predicting would be enough to raise borrowing by 0.5 per cent and ruin his hopes of having the public finances in the black.

Having committed to eradicating the decifit by the end of the Parliament and then left little margin for error in his spending plans, Mr Osborne is now at the mercy of events. And that is never a comfortable place for a politician to be,

If the Chancellor has to repeatedly seek fresh cuts or tax rises or even admit his plan to eradicate the deficit by 2020 is unachievable, his leadership ambitions could be in tatters.