You could have knocked me down with a feather
That's how I felt when I heard that the Budget due in two weeks was not going to be a "big give-away". The news came from no less an authority than the chancellor himself - speaking tonight to my BBC colleague Hugh Pym.
Given that the government is legally committed to making £57,000,000,000 worth of tax rises and spending cuts to deal with Britain's budget deficit, only the economically-illiterate could imagine that there was any scope for a big give-away budget.
So, what's interesting is the politics of this.
After months of tension between No 10 and No 11 about how open to be about the scale of the problem and the need for cuts, the government now has an agreed strategy.
First, it is to insist that massive borrowing was the necessary price of fighting the economic crisis. Gordon Brown told me yesterday that he would not apologise for the deficit. The Conservatives reply that, in fact, the deficit stems from irresponsible spending and borrowing leading up to the crisis.
Secondly, Labour wants to persuade voters - and the markets too - that they are acting responsibly and have a credible plan to deal with the deficit, while adding that Tory plans would be excessive and risk the recovery.
Thirdly, ministers are going to spell out how they will make promised efficiency savings of £11bn as evidence that they are capable of making the tough decisions necessary. Ed Balls has already begun to spell out cuts of several hundred million pounds which he'll make in order, he says, to protect the schools budget. The Departments of Schools, Children and Families and Health is being allowed to recycle any savings it makes, so only £7bn of these savings will be used to cut the deficit.
So, the plan is simply stated - if not simply delivered.
Labour are committed to halving the deficit - by an estimated £82bn - over four years.
They forecast that £25bn will come from growth (assuming a strong recovery in the years ahead), £19bn will come from tax rises - which have already been announced, but which have not yet been implemented - and £38bn will come from spending cuts - which have not been announced in any detail. £7bn of those cuts will also come from efficiency savings.
The chancellor says there is too much economic uncertainty to spell out the other savings he needs to make, but promises there will be a spending round this autumn (after the election).
Ponder this for a moment: Labour will go into an election planning - on their own figures - to make £31bn of cuts.
Now, of course, the Conservatives, who say that the deficit needs to be cut quicker, must be planning to cut even more than £31bn which they, too, have not specified (though they have announced plans for a wider pay freeze than the governments and a delay in the pensionable age).
Voters have two months to ask both parties for more details of where they'll find the money.
PS Today Liam Byrne, the chief secretary to the Treasury, outlined "the plan" on the Daily Politics and abandoned the usual Treasury caution. When asked by Andrew Neil if there might be a need for further tax rises beyond those already announced you might have expected him to say he could rule out nothing (given that forecasts can turn out to be wrong).
This is what he said instead:
AN: "Are you telling us that you can get to a 50% reduction in the deficit with the tax increases we already know about?"
AN: "You don't need any more?"
LB: "No, we've set out exactly how we'll find that £19bn, and we set that out in the pre-Budget report."
AN: "So there will be no need to increase VAT to say 20%?"
B: "We don't see a need to do that because we've made some difficult decisions about National Insurance contributions."