Parliamentary Reporter JAMES SLACK tries a taste of Gordon Brown's expresso Budget'

IT was billed as the "expresso budget" - short, dark and bitter. Against the backdrop of a bloody war, Gordon Brown was supposed to warn a global economic slump would mean tough times ahead.

The scene watched on split TV screens across the nation was quite different.

Rolling news networks showed Iraqis dancing in the streets as Allied troops rolled into Baghdad.

At the same time, the Iron Chancellor told us everything would be all right after all. Growth this year was less than predicted - two to 2.5 per cent rather than 2.5 to three per cent. Mr Brown said he also needed to borrow an extra £3 billion to fill a hole in Treasury coffers. But the slump was only temporary, he said. Growth over the next two years would be bigger than predicted thanks to his excellent stewardship of the economy.

Analysts didn't predict such bullishness - but nor did they predict downtrodden civilians would be taking a hammer to a towering statue of Saddam Hussein at the same time.

Mr Brown must now pin his hopes on being right. He got away with it this time, Tories muttered darkly. But he won't be so lucky next time, should his sums be wrong.

Labour MPs - who had been quiet when the Chancellor rose to his feet for a record seventh budget - grew louder the longer he spoke. They cheered a freeze in the tax on spirits, and just 1p on a pint of beer.

There was £340m for the reconstruction of Iraq - cash which will now have to be found sooner than expected.

The £500 Baby Bond - first touted in 2001 - was finally given approval. But the biggest puffing of chests on the Labour benches came at the end, when attention shifted to pensioners.

Mr Brown's one big political mistake to date was offering a derisory 75p increase. This time he promised a £100 hike in the winter fuel payment for those over 80. There was a new pensioner credit. And he scrapped the hated "hotel charge" - cash deducted from pension payments when the elderly are in hospital. Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith got stuck in, complaining about stealth taxes - the freezing of personal tax allowances and stamp duty thresholds. But it was a surprisingly good day for Mr Brown. And, more importantly, the Iraqi people.