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The Government's emergency budget speech

There were early promises from Chancellor George Osborne that the budget would be delivered ‘straight’ and ‘plainly’, with nothing ‘buried in the in small print’. However, language still threatened to stray into the world of ‘management speak’, with words and references such as:

  • ‘surplus countries’;
  • ‘the dollar peg’; and
  • ‘redacted’ (which was made fashionable during the revelations around MPs’ expense claims, as a more suitable word than ‘removed’.

By using ‘the unavoidable budget’ is seems that the coalition Government are trying to set a tone that would mean they were free from guilt for any painful decisions they had to make.


It wasn’t a budget full of numbers, although we are now talking about currency in billions, and even introducing ‘trillion’.

Osborne’s plain English explanation for ‘fiscal mandate’ did not go unnoticed either.

“The first challenge for this Budget is to set the fiscal mandate – or in other words, our overall objective for the public finances.”

Plain English Campaign would have preferred ‘the Government’s income and spending’ instead of ‘fiscal’. But, overall this was a budget speech which used much clearer language than the budget speeches in past years – using short, snappy sentences without the drivel and jargon.

There were plenty of ‘fiscal deficits’, ‘fiscal tightenings’ with some ‘fiscal consolidation’, to bring on ‘fiscal credibility’. In March Alistair Darling only mentioned ‘fiscal’ twice, but Osborne managed to squeeze in 17 references. Still, his predecessors have been more than happy to use the phrase in the past, referring to:

  • fiscal loosening;
  • fiscal position;
  • fiscal policy;
  • fiscal stance;
  • fiscal discipline;
  • fiscal figures;
  • fiscal rules;
  • fiscal decision;
  • fiscal impact; and
  • fiscal strength.

All the above leave you dumbfounded, and they are definitely phrases not for ‘the fiscally neutral’. Basically, unless we know exactly what the Government means by ‘fiscal’, we have no chance of understanding what they are talking about.

Despite these little glitches, Chrissie Maher, founder of Plain English Campaign was ready to say the following.

“No matter what the politics, clarity gets top marks if it means that the grassroots have a chance of understanding and dealing with Government’s decisions, however painful they may be. Since this is the last budget where we will see William Gladstone’s iconic Red Box, we hope this is also a fresh case for clarity, leaving the language of 150 years ago in the National Archives with the original Red Box.”

David Hughes, the Daily Telegraph's chief leader writer, says on his blog that the Chancellor "treated us like grown-ups." He ends his blog with the following.
“Under Brown, Budget day turned into something approaching a Paul Daniels show, where sleight of hand, trickery and deception were routinely used to bamboozle the voters. Today we had clarity. That will not lessen the financial pain that we are all about to share but at least Osborne has had the guts to give it to us straight. We know what’s coming.”

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