With Budget day fast approaching, how will it be sold to the public? And how will the opposition go about pinning a derisive name on it? Let’s look back at some of the best and worst attempts.
Budgets are complicated, big hairy beasts of policy packages rolled out to the public in the space of an hour. Journalists get slightly more time to digest them if they go along to the morning lockup, but they’re sworn to secrecy and get their phones confiscated at the door so they can’t tweet it out.
As such, the way the budget gets sold, and countered, on the day itself, can have a huge impact on how it gets perceived and remembered. And the key to that is coming up with the right perfect, pithy epithet. A good name for a budget can be defining for months or even years. A bad one sometimes won’t even make the paper the next morning.
So with that in mind, here’s a reverse chronological list of what names have worked, and which have barely made a ripple.
2017 – New Zealand
The ‘one dollar bill budget’
Then Labour leader Andrew Little tried to get this one moving as a response to National’s tax cuts, which were very handy for those on high incomes, but offered little for those who weren’t. Little’s example was a cleaner, who would get $11 more on the tax cuts, but would lose $10 in other support. Hence, one dollar.
Verdict: One dollar Bill? Because of Prime Minister Bill English? Any takers? As it turned out, no. We have one dollar coins here, thank you very much. 2/10
2014 – New Zealand
The ‘fudge-it Budget’
Remember David Cunliffe? Won the Labour leadership in a coup and then led them to a crushing defeat against the rampant Sir John Key led National Party. His big criticism of the election year budget was that the much vaunted surplus achieved by finance minister Bill English was a mirage based on craft accounting. English, Mr Cunfliffe proclaimed, was fudging it.
Verdict: This name gains points for coming up with a handy rhyme. It loses points because most people quite like fudge. 5/10
2008 – New Zealand
The ‘block of cheese budget’
You’re going to start seeing a theme develop here, where the opposition tries to attach a super relatable name (everyone knows about cheese) to a budget to describe the tax cuts contained in it. In 2008, the Labour government was on its last legs, desperately flailing around to try and stave off their upcoming defeat. One of the methods used by finance minister Michael Cullen was tax cuts – $16 a week for those on incomes on the average wage of $45,000. Then-opposition leader Key said it was a family sized block of cheese, but look, either inflation has been in reverse since then, or prices have gone down or something, because I just looked at Countdown’s website and you can get a kg of Signature Range Edam for $7.90. I mean, that’s a lot of cheese quite frankly. Should you really be eating two kgs of cheese a week?
See also the ‘chewing gum budget’ in 2005, where much the same epithet was being used to describe those tax cuts. Results have been combined due to similarity.
Verdict: Can we maybe get beyond tax cuts being the primary measure of whether a budget is good or not? 3/10
1991 – New Zealand
The ‘mother of all budgets’
Coming out of the wild economic reforms of the 4th Labour government, finance minister Ruth Richardson delivered a radically austere budget that ripped huge chunks of the welfare state apart, and unleashed another wave of privatisations. It was so radical in fact, that it contributed to former PM Sir Robert Muldoon’s decision to resign. The wider economic programme, with the equally catchy name ‘Ruthanasia,’ contributed to huge unemployment and put severe pressure on the health system.
Verdict: There’s a good double meaning here. It was like a mother in that it was so all-encompassing. But it was also like a mother, in the sense that The Datsuns might say was from hell. 8/10
1958 – New Zealand
The ‘black budget’
Perhaps the most well–remembered budget epithet in New Zealand’s history. The so-called Black Budget was delivered by Labour’s Arnold Nordmeyer, who in response to a growing balance of payments crisis, hiked sin–taxes dramatically. Smokers and drinkers were whacked heavily, and because people quite enjoy doing both, the government’s popularity plummeted, and they were bundled out of office in 1960. It was an unfortunate single term of government for the Labour party, who endured near permanent opposition between 1949 and 1984.
The Black Budget had a weird second life as part of a hammy campaign for DB Export beer in 2010. Have a look at this horrifically misleading and ultimately pulled advertisement.
Verdict: The name has stood the test of time, and become something of a cultural touchstone for New Zealanders of a certain age. Not necessarily a good touchstone, but a touchstone nonetheless. 9/10
1909 – United Kingdom
The ‘People’s budget’
This was described by then Chancellor of the UK David Lloyd George as a “war budget,” but the enemy was poverty, rather than the Germans (who in a few years would also be the enemy). It introduced land taxes, and taxes for those on higher incomes, and dramatically increased spending on social welfare. The land tax proposal was later dropped, due to pressure from the House of Lords, but regardless, it was transformative in the lives of Britain’s poorest. Every once in a while there are calls in Britain for another one.
Verdict: Remarkable in that George himself got to name and frame the budget, rather than leaving that up to the opposition. 10/10
2018 – ??
And with New Zealand’s own budget about to be read on Thursday, here are some predictions for the names parties will try and attach to it.
Labour: Probably something soggy and unmemorable like the “caring budget.”
National: Will probably hone in hard on free tertiary fees, and how spending there means money can’t be spent elsewhere. They’ll play on parental fears about their adult children and call it the ‘binge drinking budget.’
New Zealand First: It is literally impossible to predict what phrases Winston Peters will come up with.
ACT: The stardancing budget. Because it’ll all be utopian, head in the clouds stuff (But really, what else has David Seymour got on at the moment?)
Greens: The Green budget, to remind everyone that they exist.
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