In for a Penny

An icon of Britain and probably the most famous timepiece in the world, Big Ben towers over that infinitely less reliable institution and the seat of British Government, the Houses of Parliament. Famously regulated by the adding or taking away of pennies to its mechanism Big Ben is used all over the world as a symbol for marking the new year.
The British Budget is likewise watched the world over and regulated by the adding and taking away of pennies.

Big Ben

Traditionally every March the Chancellor (currently Rishi Sunak) presents his budget to a boisterous parliament, after the press has whipped up a lather of speculation and the public has sunk into a stupor of indifference. Those MPs not too inebriated to leave the duty free commons bar(s) trundle into the chamber with all the exuberance of a gang of stockbrokers visiting a strip club.

Briefcase brandishing

The Budget is presented by the Chancellor live on national television with all the gimmicks and showmanship he can muster. The MPs harrumph and guffaw appropriately, the heavyweights of the government squeeze in around him cosily and a jolly old time is had by all.

It is of course a total sham. The Chancellor is picked for his malleability, expendability, and briefcase brandishing capabilities and has as little knowledge of how the economy actually works as a sea cucumber does of quantum physics. The average MP doesn’t know his GDP from his RPI and the whole thing is cobbled together from stolen school maths exam papers and whatever can be retrieved from the hard drives of rusty old Civil Service computers after the vice squad have finished with them

The Glass half full

The penny slapped on a pint of beer and the penny “slashed!” from the litre of petrol will make the next day’s tabloid headlines and the obscure, quietly mumbled “reform” of XYZ duty that will actually crap all over the average person’s disposable income will not be discovered or unscrambled until the weekend Budget Special pull-outs. By which time England will have been thrashed at a sports event and some celebrity will have climbed out of a car with no knickers on, commending interest in the budget to the dustbin.


The whole event is really just a chance for those who can be bothered, to watch their local MPs reactions in the glow of publicity radiating around the Chancellor; raising a querulous eyebrow, frowning speculatively, looking outraged and generally hamming it up whenever a camera comes in range. This is in stark contrast to everyday parliament “live” on television which consists usually of some obscure geriatric backbencher droning away interminably surrounded by a “doughnut” of wannabes, the remaining half a dozen MPs sleeping off last nights excesses on the plush green benches.

Inside Big Ben

The Budget is like a cutaway window to the intricate inner workings of a stately grandfather clock – the glitter of wheels whirring away conveniently disguising the fact that the rest of the case is just a pretty empty box filled with a old rope and swinging lead.

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