If bubble gossip is to be believed, there was a tug-of-war between the Downing Street neighbours this week. Rumour has it Boris was pivoting towards sharper restrictions, siding with the so-called ‘Doves’ in his cabinet, while the Chancellor, having eyeballed the bank balance, has been the most anti-lockdown ‘Hawk’ voice in Committee Briefing Room A.
While the Chancellor may be spending big, the feeling is that from the outset the Treasury has been swift, decisive and competent in cushioning the fiscal impacts of the panic-driven health-led pandemic policy. Rather than the U-turns, terrorising slideshows and mixed messaging that has emanated from No 10.
At the start of the outbreak, and having been in office for less than a month, inexperienced Sunak was bounced not only into producing and presenting a national budget, but one that included £30 billion of additional spending, £12 billion of which was allocated to the economic impact of Covid-19. Within less than a week and lockdown imposed, the fleet-of-foot financial virtuoso launched a £330 billion stimulus package, the very first of its kind in the history of UK politics. Without even breaking into mild perspiration, boy wonder proved that while he may be short of stature, he was set to become a giant in British politics.
Of course there are critics of the furlough scheme, but criticisms are best levelled at the authors of lockdown itself. Like all Chancellors, his job is to both manage funding distribution across Whitehall while balancing the books, but also be able to react to central demands and crises. Not in recent history, not even in wartime, has so much been asked of 11 Downing Street.
Sunak provided more support to the self-employed than any other country in the world, and for a longer period of time. The original stimulus package was one of the largest in the West. The brave steps taken by the Chancellor to mitigate an horrific economic fall out from policies emanating from next door must not be scoffed at. But the hardest decisions are yet to come. Sunak has to somehow rebuild growth, dodge austerity and keep taxes low while handling a national debt that will exceed 100 per cent of GDP and with one of the largest budget deficits in years. Based on everything Sunak has previously proselytised, his ideology is in the right place, while he comes across as unwavering and sincere.
Watching the Chancellor coolly answer scrutiny from both benches with calm and dignified aplomb, silencing critics on the Left braying for greater government spending, and appeasing Conservative colleagues rallying against the Prime Minister’s return to restrictions, one can’t help but wonder whether this is the man to appeal to the Left while staying firmly on the Right. He is not just the Prime Minister we are starting to want, but one that we desperately need.
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News – After Rishi Sunak’s skilful speech, one wonders if he is the Prime Minister we badly need