What Rishi Sunak said in his Budget speech – and what he really meant

Our chief political commentator reads between the lines of the chancellor’s statement

John Rentoul
Wednesday 27 October 2021 15:30
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The economy will return to pre-Covid levels at the turn of year, Sunak says

What Rishi Sunak said: Madam Deputy Speaker I’ve heard your words and those of Mr Speaker. I have the greatest respect for you both. And I want to assure you that I have listened very carefully to what you have said.

What he really meant: I will continue to make announcements outside the Commons if I feel like it.

What he said: For too long, far too long, the location of your birth has determined too much of your future, because the awesome power of opportunity shouldn’t be available only to a wealthy few.

What he meant: It is what the people want: Labour rhetoric from a Conservative politician. Especially one who is one of the wealthy few and talks like Tony Blair.

What he said: The majority of this rise in inflation can be explained by two global forces.

What he meant: The other 49 per cent is down to Brexit.

What he said: Borrowing down; debt down; proving once again it is the Conservatives – and only the Conservatives – who can be trusted with taxpayers’ money.

What he meant: Borrowing and debt are up but we are Conservatives; we peddle the elixir of hope that everything will be under control soon. Trust us.

What he said: I told the House that when we met our fiscal test, we would return to spending 0.7 per cent of our national income on overseas aid. Some people said this was a trick or a device.

What he meant: They were right. Very popular it was too.

What he said: Today’s forecasts show that we are in fact scheduled to return to 0.7 per cent in 2024/25, before the end of this parliament.

What he meant: It wasn’t popular in liberal middle-class places such as Chesham and Amersham, though, so we will have it both ways. Cut foreign aid and then say we are “scheduled” to restore it. Will it actually happen? Who knows?

What he said: Record investment in health … as well as funding to deliver the prime minister’s historic reforms to social care.

What he meant: Social care? Saving the inheritances of the middle classes, more like. It is Boris’s idea. Nothing to do with me, but I am humouring him, saying the taxpayer will stump up for it in due course. Well, “in due course” may never come.

What he said: To improve the quality of childcare we’re going to pay providers more with the spending review providing an extra £117m by 2024/25.

What he meant: Bear with, while I read out all those Treasury news releases that have been sent out over the past week. Item 16: I reinvent Sure Start as if I am the first person to realise that early years support is important.

What he said: Reckless, unfunded promises to abolish a tax that raises significant £25bn are completely irresponsible.

What he meant: How dare Rachel Reeves indulge in effective, unfunded opportunism by promising to abolish business rates. That sort of thing is our job.

What he said: Last year, the state grew to be over half the size of the total economy. Taxes are rising to their highest level as a percentage of GDP since the 1950s. I don’t like it, but I cannot apologise for it. It is a result of the unprecedented crisis we face and the extraordinary action we took in response.

What he meant: I am a benevolent but reluctant statist despot. What people want is Labour policies to respond to a crisis, and traditional low-tax Toryism when it comes to paying for it.

What he said: But now we have a choice. Do we want to live in a country where the response to every question is what is the government going to do about it? When every time prices rise, every time a company gets in trouble, every time some new challenge emerges, the answer is always the taxpayer must pay. Or do we choose to recognise that government has limits – that government should have limits?

What he meant: I am well aware that Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, with her low-tax message is increasingly popular with the Tory MPs and party members who choose the next leader.

What he said: My goal is to reduce taxes.

What he meant: Taxes are going up. Sorry.

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What he said: I want this to be a society that rewards … work. That is what we believe on this side of the House. That is my mission over the remainder of this parliament. And the final announcement in today’s Budget takes a first step.

What he meant: Here comes the only bit that hasn’t been announced in advance. It’s a shame so many journalists have guessed what it will be.

What he said: A £2bn tax cut for the lowest paid workers in our country. It supports working families, it helps with the cost of living and it rewards work.

What he meant: It doesn’t do anything for people who are out of work, millions of whom have lost £20 a week when the universal credit uplift ended.

What he said: This Budget levels up to higher wage, higher skill, higher productivity economy. This Budget builds a stronger economy for the British people and I commend it to the House.

What he meant: There’s nothing much in it but it is the best I can do. Please sign up for my leadership campaign, “Rishi ’24”.

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