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by RAY FLEMING
THERE were no great policy departures in Gordon Brown's Budget statement in the House of Commons yesterday afternoon. It was, he said, a budget designed to establish “a culture of stability” in “this era of great change”. Some might think those objectives to be contradictory but the Chancellor did not see it that way. With a smile he allowed himself only a single reference to “boom and bust” and then only to assert that Labour had got rid of that problem for ever. If the content was relatively low key, the contest between Mr Brown and David Cameron was full of interest since one of them will presumably be the next occupant of No 10 Downing Street. On the whole the Conservative leader had the better lines, describing his opponent as “an analogue politician in a digital world” and re-using his “He is the past” taunt. But whether these dismissals of a Chancellor who has created and maintained the soundest economy in Europe over the past decade will go down well with a public that remembers Black Wednesday must be open to doubt. More substantively, Mr Cameron pointed out that in a speech lasting one hour Mr Brown had not mentioned the National Health Service once. That was certainly odd but perhaps it was intended as a message to the NHS to make better use of the billions already provided. Education was the Chancellor's big theme, proposing to raise the sum spent on each child in state schools from 5'000 pounds a year to the private school level of 8'000 pounds by 2011. The pensioners' winter fuel allowance will remain (but still not for those on Majorca) but their council tax rebate given last year will not be repeated; “a disgrace” said Help The Aged immediately. Gordon Brown's manner was noticeably more relaxed than in previous years and he even allowed himself an introductory joke. The last Chancellor to deliver ten budgets, he said, had been Nicholas Vansittart in 1820: “He used the job as preparation for the next important one in government (pause)...as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.” It was an apt joke because the post at the Duchy of Lancaster is vacant at the moment.