LONDON (AFP) - Newspapers have accused Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government of failing to take tough decisions to slash the massive public deficit, after unveiling its budget statement.
Finance minister Alistair Darling ducked the measures needed "to pull Britain back from the brink of bankruptcy" for fear of upsetting voters ahead of the general election, newspapers said.
Darling unveiled Wednesday his keenly-awaited statement to parliament as Britain, stuck in its longest recession on record, gears up for national polls due by mid-2010 that the ruling Labour Party is widely tipped to lose.
With headlines of "Pain delayed" and "Darling ducks tough decisions," they said the government needed to rein in spending after announcing borrowing was set to reach a bigger-than-expected 178 billion pounds in 2009/10.
"Britain will be left with an unprecedented debt mountain," the Daily Telegraph said in its editorial.
"So, how does the Chancellor plan to tackle it? We are no nearer knowing that today than before he got to his feet."
"The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Darling) fell below the level of the occasion yesterday. There was no serious plan to reduce the budget deficit," added The Times.
The Daily Mail said he missed the chance to "prove himself a responsible statesman, prepared to spell out the acutely painful and inevitably unpopular measures necessary to pull Britain back from the brink of bankruptcy."
The Guardian noted, however, that slashing public spending before Britain's economy had a chance to recover from recession was "inviting disaster."
"Let us be clear: the budget deficit does need to be reduced, but to chop it before the economy has come off government life-support is inviting disaster."
Britain is the last major world power in recession, after the eurozone, France, Germany, Japan and the United States have all returned to growth after the worst global economic downturn since the 1930s.
The paper also said Darling risked alienating key swing voters when he announced a surprise increase in tax for 10 million middle income earners. Related article: Britain taxes bankers' bonuses
"Darling soaks the rich ... and the rest of us too," its headline said.
The Sun declared: "Darling also hit middle and higher earners. Some people will cheer but these workers provide the jobs that create recovery."
The government Wednesday fired a broadside at banks, slapping a 50-percent tax rate on bonuses above 25,000 pounds (27,600 euros, 40,700 dollars) to recoup cash spent saving the sector after the financial crisis. Related article: Brown, Sarkozy united on bank bonuses
With Labour expected to lose the election to the main-opposition Conservatives, the unveiling of the tax was seen as an attempt to win votes.
The Financial Times warned it was "playing a dangerous political game."
Quoting financial sources, the paper said the move would "trigger an exodus of bankers to New York, Switzerland and other 'friendlier' jurisdictions, permanently damaging London's stature as a financial hub."