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Pre-election budget targets politics, not policy

But bad news for trampagne drinkers, Darling?

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Budget In a budget lacking the traditional pre-election giveaway, the chancellor dedicated much of his speech to congratulating himself on measures taken in the last two years to mitigate the impact of recession and bail out the financial sector.

The most significant tax change is to stamp duty, which will rise to five per cent for properties over a million pounds, to fund an accompanying rise in the threshold. From midnight tonight there will be no stamp duty on properties worth up to £250,000 for first time buyers, double the current threshold.

Business rates will also be cut for a year from October in a move to help small businesses. The annual investment allowance will also be doubled to £100,000.

Meanwhile the three per cent annual rise in fuel duty will be staged this year, with only a one per cent rise before the election.

There will be no more changes to income tax, national insurance or VAT before the election.

Darling declined to give details of spending cuts Labour plans in areas such as health and education, saying only that the post-election settlement would be "the toughest for decades". Small cuts announced in the pre-budget report, including to the NHS IT system, will go ahead, he confirmed.

He however reaffirmed Labour's aim to halve the budget deficit - £167bn this year - by 2014.

The chancellor primarily sought to draw a battle lines between the two main parties over the timing of cuts, saying Tory plans to wield the axe within 50 days of an election victory would be "both wrong and dangerous".

Things will get tougher for cider drinkers as soon as Sunday however, as there will be a 10 per cent rise in duty above inflation. The full speech is available here.

David Cameron described Darling's plans to halve the budget deficit by 2014 as "completely inadequate". The Tories have also avoided specific announcements about cuts to key areas of public spending ahead of the election. ®

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