“UNAVOIDABLE, fair and progressive” was the claim that George Osborne made for the measures in his emergency Budget, presented to the House of Commons yesterday. Few would argue with “unavoidable” but even here the question remains of whether it would have been wiser to wait until the economy is stronger before weakening it by early increased unemployment and lower tax revenue. “Fair and progressive” will be argued about as the experts crawl over the figures; the actual public spending cuts will not be known in detail until the autumn.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of Mr Osborne's speech was his declaration that he intends to eliminate the deficit by the end of this Parliament - late 2015 or early 2016 if it runs its full course. Targets are important, of course, but it is difficult to see why this one needs to be named before the full scale of the problem and the effectiveness of its solutions are better known. It leads to the worry that many people already have about the way in which the economic recovery programme is being shaped. There are distinct signs that the economies and other reforms are not only economic in character but also have a distinct political dimension to them - in other words that timing and priorities are also geared to a reform of the nature of the British state and its responsibilities.