A winding road
Alistair Darling presents himself as a chancellor who plays it straight, and today was supposed to be no exception. Others might be lurching wildly - torn between Labour's position in the polls, and the cost of government debt.
Mr Darling, we were told, was a man who sticks to the path he's set. Maybe that's what we'll hear later on. But it seems there's going to be a couple of detours.
We now know that stamp duty is going to be abolished for first-time buyers purchasing houses for less than £250,000. On the face of it, this is completely at odds with the government's strategy for the recovery, which is to re-balance the economy away from consumption and debt - in favour of exports and investment.
The best that can be said of this change is that it doesn't cost much: when George Osborne proposed it in the autumn of 2007, he said it would cost £400m. That sounds about right - though even that could be a bit high.
According to the Treasury's own ready-reckoner, raising the threshold for everyone would cost £910m in 2010-11 and £1.1bn next year. Usually, first-time buyers account for about 40% of housing transactions, though that share has fallen sharply in the past two years.
You'd also expect the average purchase price for first-time buyers to be lower than for the broader population. That would push down the cost as well.
The other news is that the increase in fuel duty pencilled in for next month is going to be introduced in stages. In last year's Budget and the pre-Budget report, the chancellor announced fuel vehicle excise duty increases worth £1.8bn in 2010-11. It will be interesting to see how much of that he's going to reverse. My bet would be less than half.
How will this square with all the talk about supporting jobs - and boosting private investment? We will wait to hear. But as I said on the Today programme this morning, I will be looking to compare the size of this consumer giveaway with the giveaway for companies, and the "takeaway" from the banks.
If the Alistair Darling we read about plans to make an appearance in Parliament today, he'll want to show that boosting private investment is a higher priority than winning votes.
And he'll want to show he's paying for those trinkets for tax-payers by extracting a "payback" from the banks, and without compromising his plans for the deficit.
Though they seem at odds with the long-term strategy, the stamp and fuel duty "giveaways" do provide useful cover for the chancellor in his argument with the Conservatives over the timing of budget cuts.
For some time now, I and others have been pointing out that the gap between them was more rhetorical and real - not least, because the government was planning to withdraw more than £20bn from the economy this year by reversing the special stimulus.
By introducing these measures - and probably some new spending in 2010/11 on helping the unemployed - he can claim the government is supporting the economy, at the margin, where the Conservatives would cut.
That may help the rhetoric. But when it comes to the macro-economy, remember that the impact of returning VAT to 17.5% will be far greater than any modest spending measures he announces today. And - once again - it will be important to see how he pays for those changes. He may not be "spending" any extra money at all.
In all this I haven't mentioned the markets. Investors' expectations of Mr Darling were the focus of my piece on the News at Ten last night. But clearly, they too will be looking to compare the amount spent on voters and companies with the amount raised on the financial sector - and, crucially, the amount put into lowering the deficit.
On borrowing - keep your eyes on one number: the structural deficit in 2014-15. If it's lower than 3.1% of GDP (the forecast in the PBR), then that means the Treasury thinks the job of fixing the public finances has got easier.
Investors will want to see that he has used that as opportunity to finish the task more quickly, not spend more on coaxing voters today. If the total figure for public sector net borrowing in 2014/15 has not also fallen, that will not go down well at all.
As for that rhetoric about "supporting the recovery'" - the key will be to look at the Budget measures taken together. If the net effect on the government spending and revenues is broadly neutral, then the impact on the economy will probably be neutral as well.
Labour would argue that the money spent on, say, giving temporary jobs to young people will boost demand more than raising taxes on very high earners will reduce it. And yes, it's unlikely that people on more than £150,000 are going to be shopping in Aldi as a result of the 50p rate.
But even so, you're still talking about a very modest net impact on the recovery this year. The effect on the chancellor's reputation is even harder to judge.