by RAY FLEMING
AFTER the prospect of a member of the House of Lords having special responsibility for Britons living overseas, offered by the Chairman of the Conservatives Abroad during his visit to Majorca this week, I was fully expecting Gordon Brown to make a counter offer to extend the winter fuel allowance to overseas pensioners in his Budget speech yesterday. We could certainly have used it in the winter we've just had. But although the Chancellor's statement was widely described as a budget for OAPs there was nothing that I could see in it for those of us who won't qualify for a tax refund on our council house, or be able to ride the buses free of charge, or benefit from the abolition of charges while we're kept in a NHS hospital.

So, putting aside petty self-interest, what kind of a Budget did Mr Brown produce ahead of the coming election? Michael Howard immediately called it a “vote now pay later budget”, a charge difficult to sustain. Charles Kennedy was nearer the mark with his rhetorical question, “How can it be right in Britain today that the poorest 20 per cent pay more in tax, as a proportion of their income, than the richest 20 per cent?

The reality is that Mr Brown did not need to offer the electorate bribes in order to persuade it that he has been an extremely successful Chancellor of the Exchequer and that Labour has proved itself to be a responsible and effective manager of the nation's finances. Tony Blair called Gordon Brown “The best Chancellor for a century” earlier this week and he was probably right. When all has been said and done about schools and hospitals and other public services, the most telling achievements of Labour over the past eight years have been economic growth, low inflation and near-full employment.

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