The Lib-Dems’ soundbite master, Vince Cable, summed it up as a “good Budget for bingo and boilers”.
He was referring to a couple of oddities in Alistair Darling’s pre-Budget report – a cut in the bingo tax and a scrappage scheme for home boilers.
Both are welcome in their (limited) way but are not what you’d expect from a chancellor battling against the worst economic storms seen in the British Isles in living memory.
But, as Mr Darling’s many critics pointed out, this had little to do with economics but a lot to do with politics.
The prevailing “mood music” emerging from the chancellor’s speech was the sound of some very tough fiscal decisions being kicked into the long grass.
Mr Darling effectively flicked two fingers of fudge in the faces of the British public.
“You might be worried about your jobs and the prolonged impact of this recession,” he might have said, “but we’ve got a General Election to fight and a new front in the class war to open up.”
To be sure, the country is in no mood at the moment to show sympathy with the higher-paid who will be bearing the brunt of Mr Darling’s tax rises.
Indeed, it will be interesting to see whether he has called the bluff of those well-fed faces who run the nationalised Royal Bank of Scotland who claim their clever boys and girls will be off at the first hint of an attack on their bonuses. Exactly who is waiting to snap up this British banking talent is not explained.
What is certain, though, is that his attempt to tax bonuses over £25,000 will create work for smart lawyers who are making money out of Labour’s blurring of the distinction between tax avoidance (which is legal) and tax evasion (which, rightly, is illegal).
Mr Darling’s insistence on restoring VAT to the pre-crisis 17.5 per cent rate while pressing ahead with rises in National Insurance will, however, hit many outside the “fat cat” class.
The extra VAT grab will, at current prices, add 2.36p to a litre of unleaded and 2.4p to a litre of diesel (just what the hard-pressed road haulage industry needs) from January 1, according the AA’s calculations.
As for higher NI contributions – that is nothing more than a tax on jobs at a time when the dole queues are lengthening.
The rest of the PBR can effectively be written off as window dressing and political spin.
Quite what Mr Darling would do to tackle the country’s unparalleled budget deficits were there any chance of his remaining in office for more than six months is, of course, the great unanswered question.
His Irish counterpart, Brian Lenihan, showed far more courage when he presented his budget report to the Dail.
All we British got from Darling were some very questionable Treasury forecasts about a return to growth and some optimistic predictions around future public sector net borrowing requirements.
He tried to get himself off the hook by saying that to “consolidate too soon, too quickly or too indiscriminately” would put the UK in the same pickle that Japan found itself in the 1990s when tough measures pushed its economy “back into recession”.
The trouble with that argument is that we are still very much in recession and the ratings agencies could easily interpret Mr Darling’s political procrastination as a reason to cut the country’s Triple A credit score, as they have with Greece.
Were that to happen, the flight of capital out of London would be catastrophic.
George Osborne savaged Labour, saying it had lost its “moral authority to govern”. But he’s the man who is most likely to have to grasp all the toxic nettles that will be left to grow in the political vacuum between now and the General Election.
Poor chap. He’s going to be even more unpopular than Geoffrey Howe was in the early 1980s.