Medical experts from various governments around the world have told us that coronavirus is here to stay for the immediate future.

The UK, France and the US took additional steps this week to delay its spread.

I did not have time to write about those developments today, or my last two trips into London, so will delay those until next week.

For me — and for the government — the 2020 budget was the highlight of an otherwise rather grim week.

Budget speech

On Wednesday, March 11, Britain’s new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Patel, delivered his first budget and the first one that the UK has had since the autumn of 2018.

Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury Boris Johnson appointed Rishi only four weeks ago. He is our first Hindu Chancellor.

Rishi’s predecessor, Sajid Javid — the first Muslim Chancellor — has the sad distinction of having served the shortest period of time of any Chancellor in the past 50 years. He was asked to fire his special advisers, which he refused to do, so he resigned. Under normal circumstances, he would have delivered the 2019 budget last November 6; as an election was taking place on December 12, it was postponed to 2020. He came up with a budget, much of which Rishi Patel presented on Wednesday in the House of Commons.

Funds will go towards the work required after the ravages of the winter floods and, now, coronavirus:

On a subject that has been raging among left-wing women for the last few years in papers such as The Guardian, the Chancellor announced that tax on sanitary products will be abolished once the UK leaves the EU at the end of this year. Former Labour MP Paula Sherriff should be happy.

I watched the Chancellor’s presentation, which was excellent, every bit as good as Ken Clarke’s in the early 1990s and Dominic Lawson’s in the late 1980s:

He even worked in a joke or two. When he announced that he would be removing VAT from books, he quipped about the Shadow Chancellor’s — John McDonnell’s — ‘little-read’ (little red) book on economics. Even McDonnell had to laugh:

The Chancellor ended a ten-year-long period of austerity under the Conservatives, freezing almost all existing duties, except for tobacco, and pledged spending hikes. Labour should be happy:

Analysis

Political pundit Guido Fawkes gave his view of the budget, ‘Big State “One Nation Toryism” is Back’, which refers to the Prime Minister’s top adviser Dominic Cummings (emphasis in the original):

The headlines will focus on the £30 billion debt-fuelled stimulus package, “only” £12 billion of which is in response to the coronavirus. The coronavirus gives cover for the big state ‘One Nation Toryism’ that many in Downing Street have always wanted. Dominic Cummings is not a tax-cutting, free market loving, state shrinking, right-winger.

It appears that most voters who opted for Conservative candidates last December do not mind an increase in spending. David Jeffery, writing for UnHerd, examined the British Election Study which canvassed 32,177 participants who responded after last December’s election.

As Jeffery, a lecturer in British Politics at the University of Liverpool, says, voters are saying No to the post-Brexit aspiration of making the UK Singapore-on Thames. Last December saw a surprising number of Labour constituencies going Conservative. Those previously impenetrable constituencies are known as the Red Wall.

One would think that this study would show a stark difference between Red Wall and more conventional Conservative voters. Not so.

Both groups are rather close — with minimal percentage differences (from less than one point to four points) — with regard to self-identifying on the political spectrum, concern for the working classes, spending and national debt. Jeffery concludes (emphases mine):

For all the talk of the Red Wall budget, Red Wall Conservatives are not so different from other Tories. Although they are slightly more wary of environmental regulation and take a more favourable view of redistribution, Conservative voters as a whole think austerity has gone too far, want to see more money spent on key services and accept that this means fewer tax cuts and no budget deficit. This is not what we’re typically told Conservatives want, and with his first budget Sunak should show he’s listening.

The Chancellor got that memo loud and clear.

Paul Goodman, who heads the website Conservative Home, says that the Chancellor adopted much of what Labour wanted in the budget. That said, the main difference is this:

we’re not in hoc to a hateful ideology; are more pragmatic; more business-friendly; more sensible; better – at least as politicians …

A People’s Budget from a People’s Government,” the Chancellor perorated. There you have it. Not a Thatcherite one from a Conservative one – or even a plan that is recognisably Tory at all, at least by the standard of recent years. The voice was the voice of Sunak, but the hands were those of Vote Leave.

John Glen MP (Salisbury), also writing for Conservative Home, provided more details about the intended spending plans this year. He said they are achievable:

The ambitious capital budget announced yesterday by the Chancellor can be achieved with relatively modest increases to the deficit as a percentage of GDP. And at a time of record low interest rates with no sign of increases on the horizon, it is an appropriate moment to avail ourselves of this opportunity to upgrade the country’s infrastructure and to make the economy more productive.

We do not yet know what the full impact of coronavirus will be. But the Budget leaves us well prepared to tackle its short-term challenges as well as helps shape the long-term trajectory of the economy through capital investment and the reduction of regional imbalances.

And, finally, Robert Halfon MP (Harlow) wrote in his article for Conservative Home that we desperately need to start upgrading our ‘social infrastructure’:

The immediate goal? Aside from addressing the economic challenges presented by the coronavirus, there will be a commitment to ‘level up’ across the country. Manifesto pledges on rail, roads, energy, broadband and freeports; all are enormously welcome and will go some way to connecting left behind places to the opportunities that others routinely enjoy.

But, if this cash injection is to get the UK going again, we must also invest in ‘social infrastructure’. It is the people of the UK that will bind physical infrastructure to economic growth, not the other way around.

In its broadest sense, social infrastructure is investment in people. In its most transformative form, it allows disadvantaged individuals to overcome entrenched social challenges and turn their lives around.

I had no idea the UK had so many social problems until I started watching BBC Parliament on a regular basis. Even Conservative MPs agree that additional money must be given to various social programmes for retraining, improving education and fighting drug addiction. Of course, the NHS comes into this equation, too.

Additional information

You can read the Budget in full here. My fellow Britons might wish to check out the Budget 2020 calculator to find out how they will be affected.

In another historic moment, Dame Eleanor Laing, the Chair of the Ways and Means Committee and Senior Deputy Speaker, was the first woman to preside over the budget presentation. In this short and interesting video she explains her role and the purpose of the budget presentation:

Afterwards, in giving the response for the opposition, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, looking characteristically grumpy, read his poorly-written text which referred to Ms Laing as Mr Speaker instead of Madam Deputy Speaker. Sad.

More on the coronavirus developments next week.