Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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All very sober and definitely no dancing

I’ve had a few lock-ins in my time.

In my youth as an employee of The Swan pub in Farnborough, England, lock-ins were one of my favourite perks of the job [in addition to the all-you-can-eat policy on pork scratchings].

They were a rare occurrence [which added to their mystique] and often preceded by a bit of drama earlier in the night – such as two inebriated fellas sounding off at one another, or even having a fight.

The prospect of a lock-in was never overtly announced, on account of them being not entirely within the law.

But as closing time approached, there would be something in the air [along with the cigarette smoke and beer odours] that signaled to staff that, after the last not-invited punter had been seen out the door, we could stay behind, and the drinks were on the house.

I’m not going to lie – I bloody loved a lock-in. The sense of exclusivity was thrilling, and for a couple of hours we were the funniest, most gorgeous bar staff in the world. We were also excellent dancers.

Yesterday’s Budget lock-in was a little different. Very sober and no indication that dancing would be welcome.

But, for a noob like me, still extremely exciting.

For the first 30 minutes, I mainly focussed on matching reporters’ radio voices to their faces and marvelling at how short many of the ones you see on the telly are in real life.

I tried not to look like I was from the countryside, but I admit to a fair bit of neck craning in the Banquet Hall, noting the flamboyant amount of marble on display and wondering where they kept the snacks.

At 10.35am, an army of Treasury types standing on the sidelines mobilized to deliver each eager reporter a media pack.

Let the intense analysis begin!

All I can say is that I was grateful for the pocket-sized ‘Budget at a Glance’ and ‘Tax at a Glance’ they’d helpfully tucked in amongst the heftier Budget Economic and Fiscal Update and Summary of Initiatives.

Budget documents are complex beasts, and icon-enhanced explainers were most welcome.

Even seasoned economists around me confessed to it being hard work to decipher where all the money has come from and where it was headed.

After the initial hub-bub, the room of a few hundred reporters and policy analysts settled down into a collegial hush, pouring over the tables, graphs and narrative that explains [and obscures] what’s in, what’s out, and what the anticipated effects of all that is going to be.

It was a productive couple of hours, probably because there was no internet. No emails, calls, texts, alerts – an unanticipated tech holiday.

After Nicola Willis had delivered her pre-budget stand-up to those locked in, I started to get the measure of this Budget. There will be a dopamine hit for a few in the shape of tax relief, but the belt-tightening is by no means over.

And my lasting impression? Well, both forms of lock-in carry the risk of resulting in severe hangovers, but the ones after Budget lock-ins can last for many years.

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