The autumn Budget was such a carbon copy of New Labour that it even had one of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s signature policies at its heart. Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak put up national insurance contributions to pay for a step-change increase in NHS spending. That was in the real Budget in September, when the prime minister and the chancellor took the main decision on tax and spending. Today’s tidying up exercise dealt with a few of the leftover details.
When Eleanor Laing, the deputy speaker, opened proceedings by telling Sunak that “we are very much looking forward to hearing the remainder of your announcements”, she spoke truer than she knew. She was telling him off for pre-announcing so much of today’s statement, but the important business had already been announced and railroaded through the cabinet and parliament last month.
The centre ground of British politics can be a hazy concept. Some of the old maps locate it in quite the wrong place. It is not simply halfway between left and right, or else Jo Swinson really would be prime minister. The more accurate short description of it is Brexity Blairism: it means a relentless focus on delivering schools and hospitals first; it means moderate compassion combined with economic and fiscal realism; and since 2016, it means being positive about life outside the EU.
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