03 March 2020

Weird and Wonderful Budget Facts

Wading through the Budget can be a taxing experience, so here are some weird and wonderful facts about Budgets of years past…

Q. Why does the Chancellor hold his briefcase aloft outside Number 11?

A. To show everyone he hasn’t forgotten it. It’s hard to imagine a Chancellor forgetting the Budget papers, but this is exactly what happened to Conservative Chancellor George Ward-Hunt in 1868. Upon opening his box, Ward-Hunt realised he had left his speech at home. Possibly unrelated, but he lasted only six months in the job!

Since Ward-Hunt’s gaffe, it has become tradition for the Chancellor to wave the briefcase when leaving Number 11 Downing Street to show that he has remembered to pick it up.

Q. Which Chancellor allegedly used the red briefcase to carry his whisky, while the Budget papers travelled to the House of Commons in a carrier bag?

A. Norman Lamont. During his time as Chancellor, the red box contained just Lamont’s bottle of whisky, while the Budget papers themselves were carried by his aide, William Hague.

Q. Which Chancellor drank a mixture of sherry and beaten egg to keep his vocal chords in shape while delivering the Budget?

A. William Gladstone. Alcohol is only permitted in the Chamber when brought in by a Chancellor delivering a Budget speech. When Gordon Brown was Chancellor in 1997, he opted for water, and every Chancellor since has followed suit. Chancellors in years gone by did take advantage of the rule, though: Winston Churchill was a brandy man, Geoffrey Howe drank gin and tonic and William Gladstone favoured sherry and beaten egg.

Q. The Budget was named after the French word for:

A. A little bag. The word ‘Budget’ comes from the old French word ‘bougette’ meaning ‘little bag’. The financial papers were carried in a bag until 1860, when Gladstone commissioned the now-famous red briefcase.

Q. How long was the longest Budget speech?

A. William Gladstone. The longest-serving Chancellor, Gladstone delivered 12 budgets, more than any other Chancellor. He also delivered the longest one on 18 April 1853, lasting 4 hours and 45 minutes (presumably fuelled and fortified by his sherry and egg).

Q. Which Chancellor said “The chancellor of the exchequer is… entrusted with a certain amount of misery which it is his duty to distribute as fairly as he can”?

A. Robert Lowe. Lowe, the Chancellor under Gladstone, said in 1870: “The chancellor of the exchequer is a man whose duties make him more or less of a taxing machine. He is entrusted with a certain amount of misery which it is his duty to distribute as fairly as he can.”

This year’s Budget will be delivered by Sajid Javid on 11 March. For up to date tax information, subscribe to our email newsletter here or to receive a paper copy of our Budget Summary or tax card, send us your address.