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Britain Unveils Budget During Election Campaigning

Britain's Treasury chief has revealed this year's budget with continued emphasis on growth and some good news on the deficit. The budget was released during increasingly raucous campaigning for national elections, expected in May.

Britain's treasury chief, Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling, arrived to a packed chamber in the House of Commons to unveil this year's budget.

His message was to stay on course, continue to promote growth and carefully and slowly reduce the deficit. "The task now is to bring down borrowing in a way which does not damage the recovery or front-line services on which people depend," he said.

Like other governments, Britain opted for spending and strong stimulus packages to try to bring the economy out of recession. But that raised the public debt and there is increasing pressure, including from the opposition Conservative Party, to reduce the deficit more quickly.

The Chancellor's speech was politically canny, says London School of Economics Professor Ian Begg. "He has not made any significant expenditure commitments, but he has also revealed that the public finances are in somewhat better shape than was the view just a few weeks ago. That gives him much more room to maneuver," he said.

There was good news on the debt front, with the budget showing borrowing at more than $16 billion less than previously forecast.

Darling cited increased receipts from a recent tax on bankers' bonuses and he announced continued help for small businesses and those with less income, including the elderly, students and first time home buyers. But as predicted, he offered no grand spending spree.

That, says Ian Begg was also politically astute. "It is clever because he has avoided the charge of bribing the electorate by a give-away budget," he said. "So, he has maintained the stability in the public finances. He has not taken any excessive risk by having a spending spree, but still he has managed to find ways of supporting groups that he relies on for his votes."

The budget address had a decidedly political tone with the Chancellor often defending the government's policies and deriding those of the opposition.

Many say that is no surprise with the election expected in early May and the Conservatives still ahead in opinion polls, although the gap has been narrowing.