The incredible shrinking tax


The Guardian has put together some word clouds for the Budget speeches for the years 1998-2009 (i.e. the speeches given by Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling as Chancellors). The more frequently a word is used in the speech, the bigger it appears in the cloud.

It makes for interesting glancing for those of us who haven’t had time to go through the whole Budget yet. But looking at trends for the past 12 years throws up some interesting patterns.

  • The biggest word in the 1998 cloud is “tax”. But you have to look quite hard to find it in 2009.
  • Similarly the word “work”.
  • “Families” was strong in the early years. Then “children” began to show up, often coupled with “education”. This year the focus is on “people”. A shift away from “family values”?
  • “Britain” was big in 2002-2006, but not before or after. A need to distinguish us from the USA?
  • The 2000-2002 speeches all show the word “pounds” as the largest by far. I don’t remember those speeches. Perhaps in recent years the Chancellors have stopped talking about things in real cash terms, instead preferring to speak of percentages. Or perhaps recent published speeches have used “£” for “pound” in their text – which wouldn’t show up in the cloud.
  • “Million” and “billion” both make their first sizeable appearance in 2005. “Million” grows in subsequent years, but “billion” grows more. It’s one of the three biggest words in 2007. Then both disappear from the next two years. Perhaps Darling didn’t like talking in such big numbers.
  • Words like “climate”, “carbon”, and “emissions” were starting to show up in 2006-2008. Not this year. I suppose focusing on environmental issues is on the back burner for a while.
  • This year, “support” and “help” were some of the largest words. This is supposed to be the recession-busting budget, after all. The word “economy” is also fairly large.

Worth a glance, though like all graphical representations of such things, it should be taken with a large handful of salt.


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