George Osborne left red-faced after Budget leak blunder
Journalist suspended and investigation demanded after Standard spills extraordinary sneak preview of Budget
LABOUR is demanding an urgent investigation into how the contents of today's Budget were published on a London newspaper's Twitter feed before Chancellor George Osborne began his speech to the Commons.
A journalist at the London Evening Standard has been suspended after a photograph of its front page (see above) was released on Twitter about 15 minutes before Osborne stood up to speak.
The page outlined all of the Budget's key measures including the cancellation of a fuel duty rise and a rise in the personal tax allowance to £10,000. Print-outs of the page were being read by Labour leader Ed Miliband, shadow chancellor Ed Balls and Labour frontbenchers as Osborne began his speech.
In his response to the Budget, Miliband said Osborne "almost need not have bothered coming" to the Commons "because the whole Budget, including the market-sensitive fiscal forecasts, were in the Standard".
The leak is a huge embarrassment for the Standard which had been given the details subject to a strict embargo stating it could not publish until after the Chancellor sat down. Carefully prepared inside pages about various aspects of the Budget showed the Standard had exploited its sneak preview to the utmost.
The leak is also embarrassing for the already embattled Tory chancellor - partly because the Budget contained market sensitive detail and partly because a previous chancellor, Labour's Hugh Dalton, was forced to resign when he leaked Budget details to the press in 1947.
Asked by a renowned political correspondent of the time, John Carvel, for the headlines of his Budget before he entered the Commons chamber, Dalton obliged and Carvel managed to get them into the LATE NEWS box of the long-defunct Star - before Dalton had sat down and before the stock market had closed, as the Daily Telegraph notes. Prime minister Clement Atlee demanded his chancellor's resignation within hours and Dalton obliged.
Asked whether George Osborne should consider his position, given Hugh Dalton's example, a senior Treasury official said this afternoon: "Of course not. Don't be ridiculous. I don't think it arises."
Another chancellor, Ken Clarke, was more fortunate than Dalton. His entire Budget was leaked to the Daily Mirror in 1996, but the paper returned the documents to the Treasury without printing the contents.
The Standard's editor, Sarah Sands, said she was "devastated" by the leaking of its front page. She said an investigation was underway and the "individual who tweeted the page has been suspended while this takes place".
Sands said: "We have immediately reviewed our procedures. We are devastated that an embargo was breached and offer our heartfelt apologies."
The paper's political editor, Joe Murphy, also apologised, tweeting that it had made "a very serious mistake".
The Guardian says Budget leaks are a "serious business, having the potential to undermine parliament and move international markets". They have become more common since the advent of electronic and now internet media, it says. ·