“He’s out of work” was the verdict of an optimistic Tory aide after Rishi Sunak announced £15billion in donations to British households in what was, for all intents and purposes, an emergency budget.
The scale of the package was greater than many expected at Westminster. But when Sunak decides to turn around, he tends to get fat.
The “temporary targeted energy profit tax” – let alone a windfall tax – generates far more than Labor would have done. And the cost-of-living payments were more targeted and far more generous than the measures in the spring declaration.
As Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, put it: Sunak’s overall approach – taking this announcement along with other recent releases – is “extremely redistributive, taking from the high earners and giving to the poor.” .
After Boris Johnson’s Tory punishment took over Partygate, the announcement will do him no harm, with backbench MPs fed up with no response to voters struggling to warm up their homes or to feed their children.
Backbench MPs across the party had been pressuring the Treasury to act and, in the absence of clear direction, launched their own very different plans to deal with the crisis.
Johnson was widely ridiculed earlier this month when he responded to a heartbreaking story from Good Morning Britain viewer Elsie about commuting by bus to save on energy bills by bragging of the Freedom Pass.
Next time asked, Sunak’s package will give the prime minister something concrete to say.
After several months as Johnson’s top succession candidate, Sunak’s spring statement, combined with negative stories about his and his super-rich wife’s personal tax affairs, had led many to write off his chances of winning. leadership.
But the blizzard of fluid social media messages that have spread alongside the statement – complete with Sunak’s signature – have suggested the only person who hasn’t quashed his chances is the chancellor himself.
The lofty tone of his speech in the chamber recalled Sunak’s greatest political achievement, the furlough plan, as he had promised, “this government will not sit idly by while there is a risk that some in our country are set back so far…they may never recover”.
Yet when you think back to the past six months, the overwhelming impression is of a government without what George Osborne used to call a “long-term economic plan.”
They were against an exceptional tax, now they have introduced one. Sunak pretends to be a chancellor of tax cuts, but the tax burden increases. He believes tackling the deficit is a “moral responsibility”, but two-thirds of Thursday’s £15billion package is unfunded or, in other words, paid for by increased borrowing. And it repeatedly implements policies that are partially – or fully – reversed, sometimes months later.
The £20 Universal Credit hike was scrapped, but part of the cut was then returned to low-income households with a reduction in the reduction rate. The hard-fought health and care tax was partly returned with the increase in the NIC threshold. And widespread backlash led Sunak to cancel plans to recoup October’s energy bill reimbursement, while doubling its value. To put it politely, it’s everywhere.
Cabinet ministers have attributed the zigzags in part to bickering between Sunak and Johnson, who are very different Tories with no shared political agenda – if indeed Johnson has any agenda at all other than holding onto No 10.
But many Tory MPs say they struggle to discern what the Chancellor stands for either, apart from polishing the Rishi brand. Thursday’s statement, embracing a policy he had previously despised, and conceding all but that the spring statement fell well short of the scale of the crisis, did little to change that.