Stanfford Cripps: The First Modern Chancellor
The position of the Chancellor of Exchequer is a powerful job. In a country where the Prime Minister is the First Lord of the Treasury, the Chancellor is a de facto number two in the British government. Three greatest of British Prime Ministers, Gladstone, D’Israeli and Churchill served as Chancellors of Exchequer (albeit their tenures were unremarkable). Living just next door to the PM, the Chancellor sets the fiscal policy and dictates the monetary policy to the Bank of England.
The most important day in a chancellor’s calendar is of course the Budget Day, now set on a Wednesday in March. The night before, he would have a dinner with the monarch, who is the first person to be told on the new budget. The next morning, he makes the short journey from Number 11 to the Commons after showing the assembled crowd the battered budget box. The beginning of this somewhat silly photo-op tradition dates from 1869 when Chancellor George Ward Hunt opened the Budget box in the Commons only to find that he had left his speech at home.
Inside the Commons, the Chancellor is allowed to drink whatever he or she wishes whilst making the speech. (This includes alcohol, which is otherwise banned under parliamentary rules). Geoffrey Howe drank gin and tonic; D’Israeli, brandy and water; Nigel Lawson, spritzer; and Gladstone, sherry and beaten egg. Chruchill opted for brandy, while Hugh Dalton singularly drank milk and rum. With a touch of irony, Kenneth Clarke announced a cut in taxes on spirits, holding a glass of whisky. This tradition nearly caused trouble when Norman Lamont took his own bottle of Highlander whiskey to the Commons in the budget box. Lamont waved the budget box containing both the bottle of whiskey and the speech. In the following years, Lamont’s PPS William Hague had to carry the speech in a plastic bag to prevent a disaster.
Perhaps the funniest the budget day story happened in 1953. Rab Butler announced that the sugar ration would be increased from 10oz to 12 oz a week to help the nation make celebratory cakes for the Queen’s coronation that year.