Monday, 4 June 2012

A charming red leather briefcase becomes a museum piece

The original Gladstone budget box, made in 1860

Every year the British Chancellor of the Exchequer announces  his annual budget plans in a speech in parliament. For some years I followed the moment when the chancellor would stand outside No11 Downing St and show the red box containing 'The Budget'.  In this post I want to discuss the red box itself, rather than the fearsome documents  it usually carries.

Apparently the original budget box was made for William Gladstone in 1860. You can see various chancellors carrying it here

According to Wikipedia, the first chancellor to break with this tradition was James Callaghan, in 1965. The following chancellors went back to using the 1860 briefcase though. 

The tradition was broken again in 1997, when Gordon Brown became the chancellor and commissioned a different briefcase. But his follower, Alistair Darling, went back to the old battered briefcase, as did George Osborne in 2010. 
Alistair Darling (Chancellor 2007-10) holding the good old red box

George Osborne, current chancellor, outside #11 in 2011
Despite obvious signs of wear and tear, the briefcase still seemed to be holding itself together. A quite charming briefcase, if you ask me. And, oh, I so wish it could talk!

A couple of months ago I was disappointed to see Osborne carrying Budget 2012 in a brand new briefcase. The old one was retired due to its 'fragile condition'. He was allowed to use it only once. It did cross my mind that his terrible budget was too much for this old briefcase to cope with! 
Osborne and a new red box in 2012
I think I am not the only one who prefers the older version. If like me, you prefer the older version and you have an ipad (which I don't),  you can even get yourself a 'chancellor of exchequer' ipad cover case.  But if you want to take a look at the one and only one you can always go to the Cabinet War Rooms, where it currently lives.  The briefcase is now 'protected', but I can't help feeling that both the box and the budget protocol have lost a lot with this measure. 

1 comment:

  1. That’s such a pity! I hate it when traditions are broken. It’s true that the new box looks an awful lot like the original one (I can’t see if it’s an exact replica) but still… It’s just not the same box!

    Did you know that we have a similar tradition of presenting the next year’s National budget in a special briefcase in the Netherlands? In fact, it’s the English tradition that inspired the creation of the Dutch tradition!

    In 1947 the then Minister of Finance (Lieftinck) presented the first Budget Memorandum after WWII to the House of Representatives. Because it was such a momentous occasion he wanted to do something special. And since he liked the English tradition so much, he decided to have a special briefcase commissioned that would hold the document. This briefcase was used until 1957 when Minister of Finance Hofstra took the documents to the House of Representatives in his own briefcase. A couple of students disagreed with this action and presented Hofstra with a new briefcase. The next year Hofstra used the old briefcase again.

    The briefcase that is in use now has been made in 1964 and was a gift from the ‘Staatsdrukkerij’ (State Printing Office?). It’s made from goat parchment and lined with blue silk. It’s a bit on the small side, so the entire Budget Memorandum doesn’t fit in, and the largest part is presented separately to the House of Representatives at a later moment.

    I can't post images in the comments, but if you Google “prinsjesdag koffertje” you can see an image of the Dutch briefcase. The side reads “THIRD TUESDAY IN SEPTEMBER”, because well, that’s the day that the national budget and the Budget Memorandum are presented to the House of Representatives. I’m not sure what happened to the previous two briefcases….


My blog list