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Tuesday 1st March 2011 | 20:17
George Osborne is not a man to hide his light under a bushel.
The consummate politician's politician, the Chancellor is never slow in attacking the Opposition and often has a Gordon Brown-like ability to use the might of the Treasury to out-think and out-flank his enemies.
But today, it seems, he pulled back in making a setpiece speech previewing a key line in the Budget.
The BBC's Iain Watson (not a man normally awry on such things) told Newsnight viewers last night:
"tomorrow, the Chancellor is unveiling what he sees as a key political message: that everyone earning £35,000 a year or less will have a lower personal tax bill as a result of next month's budget"
A Treasury mole also swears blind that the Chancellor was indeed due to make a speech today, with HMT as the venue.
But, alas, the "key political message" didn't materialise. He did write an op-ed for the Guardian, but it was an attack piece on Labour, rather than new policy hints.
So, what's gone on? Is this merely down to the mundane fact that, with Libya the only story in town, now is not the time to focus on the economy?
Well, sources close to the Chancellor say that Watson may have garbled a bit of background briefing for BBC Breakfast yesterday - which was preparing to invite Ed Miliband to place his behind on its luxurious sofa - and a pre-brief of Osborne's Guardian piece this morning.
But when I ask whether there was ever a Chancellor speech planned for today, I get radio silence. The only line is that the prebrief on tax was not a preview of anything.
This is all a bit of a mystery. Osborne quite often lines up an op-ed if he's planning that same day to give a speech where he can expand on his theme and deliver an even bigger story.
More importantly, if the Chancellor is indeed going to announce a Budget that means everyone under £35K will have a lower personal tax bill, that's a hell of a story. So good in fact that it could be the top-line the day after the Budget (along with something on cutting fuel duty I guess).
So why has it been floated into the ether only to be followed up with...silence?
If this is all merely because of Libya, it would be in HMT's interests to just say so.
After all, only last Monday, the PM himself was preparing to make a big setpiece speech on public service reform - as well as a monthly press briefing - only for it to be cancelled at the last minute because he had to go to Egypt early. He did, however, leave behind the tell-tale clue of having already placed an op-ed in the Telegraph that day.
Maybe the Chancellor has decided that imitation of his boss is the sincerest form of flattery...
WEDS UPDATE: Iain Watson certainly didn't garble anything, I hear. It seems that the 'under £35K tax' briefing was embargoed til midnight on Monday, suggesting that it was going to appear as a story in yesterday's papers. No such story appeared.
Maybe that's the real mystery.
As for the "key political message", there appears not to be a new story as such, more a clever reformulation of the Treasury's current policy. When all the NI and tax changes are taken into account, it seems that everyone under £35K will indeed have a lower tax bill, largely due to rising personal allowances.
These are the 'winners' from the changes who have so far not been highlighted enough, some in Government think.
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