Essays: Suffering the Budget's birth-pangs |
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Suffering the Budget’s birth-pangs

TWO great events dominated the viewing week: Mr Healey’s new Budget, and the World Amateur Latin-American Championships. Independent to the casual glance, these phenomena were in fact intimately linked. But to tackle the marginally less important matter first — the Budget.

The Budget would he a difficult baby to deliver. Awaiting the hour of parturition, empanelled phalanxes of [indistinct]-political midwives and obstetricians were agreed on that. On BBC1 David Dimbleby led the discussion of what He might say when He ‘rose to His feet.’ Robin Day quizzed some representative MPs on the same topic. John Pardoe, Liberal, cuttingly said that the harsh stuff would come in the first half hour, followed by measures which would fail to meet the case. Mr Pardoe added that he didn’t know why he was bothering to say this, since no one would listen to him. ‘Are you saying that no-one believes the Liberals?’ asked Robin cleverly.

Len Murray, TUC, and Campbell Adamson, CBI, put the corporate viewpoints of their respective acronyms. Michael Barratt was at the Rolls-Royce factory. ‘They’ve just achieved a brand-new production record, and that surely has to he good news.’ Barratt and a platoon of R-R directors sat on high stools. The directors agreed that Mr Healey’s job would be difficult but were admirably reluctant to guess what He might say. ‘He rose to His feet at 3.33,’ David suddenly said. But there would be time to kill before He actually got to the substance of His proposals.

On ITV the time was being filled with dire reminders of how inflation had once stalked Germany. Peter Snow was in charge of cueing graphs and diagrams marked WORLD FINANCIAL SITUATION. In 1980, if things went on as they were, you would have to earn £150 a week to get £60 worth of goods at current rates. Sir Fred Catherwood said that we couldn’t wait until 1980 to find out how bad things would get — ‘the foreigners’ would stop lending us money much sooner than that. The most direct threat to jobs, said Sir Fred, would be ‘the foreigners,’ pulling the rug out. But Mr Healey, he was erroneously certain, would be too afraid to mention this.

Back on the BBC, Alan Watson was at the Palace of Westminster. But since Mr Healey was talking inside it, whereas Alan was merely standing outside, there was a disparity between expectation and fulfilment, and I found myself gently propelled into a deep slumber, from which I awoke several hours later to discover Mr Edward du Cann complimenting Mr Healey on cutting public expenditure. The Budget speech was over. Mr Healey had been and gone like a spirit, having uttered His thoughts through the mouths of the assembled pundits.

Not until late that night, on all channels, was it possible to see the man Himself, saying that if we had worked harder longer with fewer stoppages we would never have got into our present fix. We had only ourselves to blame. There was no suggestion that the Government might have contributed to Britain’s loss of morale by such footling measures as VAT, which has turned a nation of shop-keepers into a nation of tax-collectors. Mr Healey embodied Brecht’s satirical idea of a Government losing confidence in the people and electing a new one.

Britain’s parlous condition was exemplified by the World Amateur Latin-American Championships (BBC1), held at the Albert Hall. Needless to say, no Latin-Americans were present: from time immemorial these and all other international ballroom dancing championships have been dominated by Britain, for the good reason that 99 per cent of all ballroom dancers live in this country. This year Britain won again, but among the scratchy field of also-rans (who included Werner and Ingrid Führer from Germany) loomed a disturbing new presence — the Japanese. Crashing into other couples with suspicious frequency, Mickie and Momo Kezuka seemed to be spicing the regulation footwork with more than a touch of karate. Tommy and Cherry Sakuramoto attacked the rumba the way Admiral Takajiro Ohnishi’s suicide pilots attacked the United States invasion fleet off Iwo Jima. These fanatical orientals will stop at nothing. Apparently they have even developed a special new breed of long-legged girl. A few years from now, having conquered a tendency to make scything, saké-crazed forays into the massed ranks of the opposition, the Japanese should be right on top. The effect on Britain’s self-esteem might well be decisive.

Should chaos ensue, BBC1’s new doomsville series The Survivors* could be remembered as a portent. The first episode was a compressed version of the standard John Wyndham-style plot about catastrophe (‘The Day of the Triffids,’ ‘The Kraken Wakes,’ etc.), but this time the gimmick was ’flu, which trimmed Britain’s population to a handful in the course of a single instalment, thereby making the series very cheap to cast. Had the cause of national breakdown been VAT, the plot would have been more believable, but ’flu served the turn. Carolyn Seymour sweated her way through a high fever very fetchingly, while her husband snuffed it on the sofa. In the next few weeks we will find out if she can adapt her upper middle class conditioning to the new life-style which will undoubtedly involve bows (25 per cent VAT), arrows (8 per cent), theft, rape and despair.

Few seem to know whether this Government wants to earn revenue from cigarettes or have them outlawed. If the latter, the BBC is not helping. It is probably inevitable that sponsoring cigarette companies should obtrude their unhallowed names before the lens at sporting events, but it is not inevitable — merely chicken-livered — that the BBC should so assiduously say these names aloud. At the International Trophy (BBC1), Fittipaldi’s McLaren was called a ‘Texaco-Marlboro’ and Peterson’s Lotus, which failed to start, was regularly called a ‘John Player Special.’ The Radio Times is already referring to the forthcoming ‘John Player British Grand Prix.’ Nor are cigarette companies the only hustlers. At the aforementioned Latin-American festivities, the prizes were presented by ‘Mr David Bailey, Marketing Director of the Coca-Cola Company, North European Area’ and the event was announced as having been ‘organised by Mecca Promotions in conjunction with the Bottlers of Coca-Cola.’ BBC controllers should face the fact that things are out of hand. Pious noises won’t do: cleanse the temple.

[ * Survivors ]

The Observer, 20th April 1975