Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, on whose economic and political rectitude we all depend, was yesterday called a gambler and a pickpocket by leading British papers for his Budget proposals. “The 50p gambler” said the front-page headline of Times, referring to Mr Osborne's decision to reduce the 50p in the pound income tax rate for the super-rich to 45p. “An audacious gamble from the artful Osborne” was the Editorial view of the FInancial Times while in the same paper the columnist Philip Stephens called the cut “a roll of the dice”. The Economist did not go quite as far but still described Mr Osborne's concession to the very rich as “hugely contentious”, but also asked why he had not dropped it further to 40p.

Many papers contrasted the Chancellor's readiness to help his fellow millionaires with his negative tax changes for pensioners which, according to some forecasts, will cost four million of them more than one hundred pounds a year. Mr Osborne argues that impending increases in state pensions -- the biggest ever, he says -- will more than compensate them. The Daily Mail doubted that and borrowed from Lionel Bart for the Oliver Twistian headline, “Osborne picks the pockets of pensioners”. More generally the Budget was judged to be an inconclusive interim stage in Mr Osborne's continuing bid to fix Britain's deficit by 2015.

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