7 surprisingly interesting facts about the Budget – from its French origin to best one-liner
Chancellor Philip Hammond will take to the Despatch Box to deliver the Budget on Wednesday to plot a path for the nation’s finances.
Taxation, economics and duty aside, what pomp and ceremony takes centre stage on the big day?
1. Why is it called the Budget?
Here’s one for the Francophiles. The word Budget comes from an old French word bougette meaning “little bag”.
The financial papers used to be carried in a little bag and the name stuck, although the red box or briefcase is most definitely not a little bag these days.
2. Is the red box really old?
For more than 100 years, the Budget was carried from 11 Downing Street to the House of Commons in the same red wooden box, lined with black satin and covered with scarlet leather. It was originally handcrafted for William Gladstone in about 1860.
But traditions change. Lord Callaghan used a different box in 1965 as did Gordon Brown in 1997.
Philip Hammond’s predecessor George Osborne used the Gladstone box in 2010 when it was the coalition Government, but a new box in 2011.
3. How does a chancellor get through a long speech?
In a speech which could last hours, any chancellor might get thirsty.
If the minister wants to deliver the Budget with an alcoholic tipple at his side, he – or she – can do. It’s the only time of the year the rules about drinking in the chamber are suspended – but only for the chancellor.
Kenneth Clarke was the last chancellor to make use of the rule, opting for whisky at the despatch box in the 1990s. More recently George Osborne, Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling have all taken mineral water.
Nigel Lawson used to drink a spritzer and Geoffrey Howe – who went on to name his dog “Budget” – would have a gin and tonic at his side. Gladstone, the first user of the red box, would wash down delivery of the budget with sherry and beaten egg. Mmmmm.
4. Why doesn’t the Speaker get to oversee the Budget?
While Speaker of the House John Bercow presides over most goings on in the chamber – including sparrings at Prime Minister’s Questions – he leaves the chair for the Budget.
Instead sits the deputy speaker, also known as the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
The current Deputy Speaker is Labour’s Lindsay Hoyle, MP for Chorley – who was first elected to Parliament in 1997.
The tradition of switching the speaker for a deputy dates back to the late 17th century when MPs were concerned that the Speaker was the King’s spy. Aren’t traditions great?
5. Who delivered the longest Budget speech?
Gladstone served a record 12 years as chancellor in various terms in office between 1852 and 1882.
He also has the record for the longest budget speech. In 1853, Gladstone spoke for four hours and 45 minutes.
These days they come in around the hour mark. Hammond’s Budget in March was 55 minutes. Osborne’s longest Budget was 65 minutes in 2015, his shortest was timed at 54 minutes – in both 2010 and 2013.
Meanwhile, the biggest chancellor was George Ward Hunt – who weighed in at 21 stone. Apart from his great size, he is also remembered for arriving at the Commons in 1869 to find he had left his Budget speech back at home. The red box was empty.
6. Does delivering the Budget always run smoothly?
Delivering budgets isn’t for the faint-hearted. In 1960, Derick Heathcoat-Amory collapsed while delivering his. In 1909, Lloyd George lost his voice after the first three-and-a-half hours and took a 30-minute break.
7. What’s the best part of any Budget speech?
Gordon Brown was well known for talking of “prudence” and Hammond previously joked about his love of a spreadsheet, but the oft-quoted Budget one-line winner goes to Heathcoat-Amory – yes he who collapsed.
“There are three things not worth running for – a bus, a woman or a new economic panacea. If you wait a bit, another one will come along,” he told the House.
You probably couldn’t get away with that one in 2017.