His argument for not acting with greater vigour to cut public spending seems to rely on his optimistic forecast that we will start to see a recovery by the end of this year with growth in 2010. This seems so far out of line with almost every other forecast that it is scarcely believable. I didn't even get the impression that the Chancellor really believed it either so downbeat was his presentation of that section of his speech. Indeed, overall, he seemed to lack conviction, perhaps demonstrating that he feels totally hemmed in by the economic and fiscal circumstances.
Cameron's response has been all bluster and even less substance, although I have always thought that it must be one of the most difficult speeches to make. As I said yesterday, the real test for the opposition will come later in the Budget debate when Osborne and Cable get their chance to launch more considered critiques of the Budget.
The initial reaction to Darling's Budget speech has to be that he has demonstrated that the government has now run out of ideas on the economy. He will score with left of centre voters for his attacks on high earners with the cap on pensions tax relief and the 50% rate of tax but he will get widely criticised for being too timid on the public sector deficit and for the tax increase on booze and fuel. Unfortunately for him, Labour needs to do alot more than appeal to its core supporters.