Let’s talk about the Chancellor. Throughout the pandemic, the Government has had its ups and downs. Bar the die-hard supporters, most people would admit that there are certain things that could have been handled better. Even prominent Tory voters have claimed that ‘Bojo has lost his mojo’, and Matt Hancock fumbled the testing numbers. But through it all, there has been one constant – the general feeling that Rishi Sunak is pretty alright.
He was thrown in at the deep end, only taking over in the role of Chancellor from Sajid Javid in February, as coronavirus was fast approaching, and four weeks before the Budget was due. In that first Budget, he announced huge increases in public spending that many likened to more of a “Labour-style Budget”. He threw “however many millions or billions” needed at the NHS, abolished business rates for small businesses for a year, and took on their employees’ sick pay.
These measures were the first sign that the Government was taking the pandemic seriously and came as a relief to millions of people. This was in contrast to a Prime Minister who was, at the time, holding off on enforcing a nationwide lockdown until seemingly the last possible minute, and since then Rishi has been announcing measures and funding packages on a regular basis.
It hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Government that Rishi is rather more universally popular than his colleagues. He seems to be building his own separate brand. His announcements these days get their own graphics, with his personal logo (a handwritten signature) in the corner. Compared to the standard Government fare, they’re more professionally designed, more aesthetically appealing, and generally just…jazzier. He is referred to by his first name and given sole credit for Coronavirus recovery plans in Government PR. This is no standard Cabinet member.
Yet more announcements have come in the past twenty-four hours, in what’s being called a Coronavirus mini-Budget. The stamp duty threshold has been raised to £500,000, effective immediately. The ‘eat out to help out’ scheme has been introduced (obviously thousands of young politicos have rushed to tweet hilarious jokes about this name already) giving restaurants the power to offer 50% off to customers and claim the money back (the £10 limit is a bit stingy, but there we go). Overall it’s another £30 billion of spending. Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds made a good point that many decisions are still waiting for the Autumn Budget at a time when quicker action is essential. But I doubt very much that this is what most people will take away from the latest offering.
We don’t yet know how Rishi is paying for all this. For now, though, the Government is wise to keep a spotlight on him – he’s one of the only people making them look good these days. We shall see if the Autumn Budget lives up to his reputation, or if this was just a brief moment of stardom fuelled by a country in desperation.