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History and traditions of Budget day

Governments have budgeted spending for a thousand years. Many of today's Budget traditions date back hundreds of years. The word itself comes from the French 'bougette', a little bag, now used to hold the Chancellor's Budget day plans.

Budget origins and recent changes

The origins of the Exchequer go back to the Norman period (1066-1154). The Norman system included both a Treasury and an Exchequer. The word 'exchequer' comes from the Latin 'scaccarium', meaning a chessboard. The name was given to the court dealing with the King’s finances because counters were moved on a square table to represent different amounts of spending.

The first annual budgets date from the 1720s and Sir Robert Walpole. Income tax was first introduced in the 1798 Budget by William Pitt.

Since May 1997 the Treasury presents two economic forecasts per year. In the spring the Chancellor presents the Budget, and in the autumn, the Pre-Budget Report (PBR) is released.

The Budget box

The Budget box is the red, leather-covered box containing the Budget speech. Traditionally the Chancellor is photographed on Budget day on the steps of 11 Downing Street holding up the Budget box.

The Budget box or 'Gladstone box' was used to carry the Chancellor's speech from Number 11 to the House for over one hundred consecutive years. The wooden box was hand-crafted for William Ewart Gladstone, lined in black satin and covered in scarlet leather. Lord Callaghan was the first Chancellor to break with tradition in 1965 when he used a newer box.

In July 1997, Gordon Brown became the second Chancellor to use a new box for the Budget. It was made by industrial trainees at Babcock Rosyth Defence Ltd ship and submarine dockyard in Fife. The new box is made of yellow pine, with a brass handle and lock, covered in scarlet leather and embossed with the Royal initials and crest and the Chancellor's title.

Previous chancellors who became Prime Minister

Gladstone drank sherry and beaten egg while giving his Budget speech

Since the 20th century, chancellors who have also become Prime Minster include:

  • Lloyd George (seven budgets from 1909 to 1915)
  • Winston Churchill (five budgets from 1925 to 1929)
  • Neville Chamberlain (six from 1932 to 1937)
  • James Callaghan (three from 1965 to 1967)
  • John Major (one in 1990)
  • Gordon Brown (a record eleven consecutive budgets from 1997 to 2007)

Budget speech drinks

Chancellors are allowed to drink alcohol during their Budget speech - no other Member of Parliament is allowed to do this!

William Gladstone drank sherry and beaten egg during his budget speech in 1853 - presumably to sustain him because he spoke for four hours.

Other Chancellors have chosen:

  • whisky (Kenneth Clarke)
  • gin and tonic (Geoffrey Howe - who named his dog 'Budget')
  • brandy and water (Benjamin Disraeli)
  • spritzer (Nigel Lawson)
  • natural Scottish mineral water (Gordon Brown)

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Additional links

Budget Day 2011

Budget 2011 on Directgov

Budget June 2010

Full coverage of the new government's first Budget

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