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Chancellor Rishi Sunak has done incredibly well since he was hastily appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer earlier this year, coming up with a budget that was sound and sensible.

Of course, the coronavirus crisis put paid to his well-crafted plans.

He put together and presented a balanced furlough package, which he said more than once at the time ‘could not save every job’.

HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) had to be able to act accurately and quickly without having to investigate thousands of individual cases. As such, some freelancers and self-employed were not on the list of those who could be helped financially through the furlough scheme. They had to go through the usual government income support schemes.

The furlough scheme expires in October. On Wednesday, September 24 presented a new plan to help workers in his Winter Economy Plan.

Before I cover that, he implemented other more economic initiatives.

In July, he gave a Summer Statement. He cut VAT from 20% to 5% for the hospitality and tourism sectors, which will now run through March 31, 2021. He also announced a stamp duty holiday that month on the purchase of a home. It applies to all sales taking place before March 31, 2021.

On July 15, the Treasury Committee, which, like all Select Committees, are comprised of MPs, interviewed him about the furlough scheme and whether he could target it more specifically by sector:

During his Summer Statement, Sunak also announced the Eat Out to Help Out plan for restaurants.

The Eat Out to Help Out plan ran every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of August. Diners at participating restaurants received a discount of 50% — up to a maximum of £10 — on their meals. The plan excluded take-aways, alcohol and private parties.

It did well from the start:

It was a great success, as Sunday Times columnist Robert Colvile tweeted:

Yes, I know of two small restaurant chains that extended the scheme to run through September.

It was a gimmick that worked:

On September 2, he launched the Kickstart Scheme for new apprentices, an initiative he previewed on July 8 during his Summer Statement:

The Kickstart Scheme subsidises six-month work placements for young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are on Universal Credit and in danger of falling into long-term unemployment.

He also addressed the new intake of backbench Conservative MPs that day. Guido Fawkes has the text:

We will need to do some difficult things, but I promise you, if we trust one another we will be able to overcome the short term challenges. Now this doesn’t mean a horror show of tax rises with no end in sight.

But it does mean treating the British people with respect, being honest with them about the challenges we face and showing them how we plan to correct our public finances and give our country the dynamic, low tax economy we all want to see.

We cannot, will not and must not surrender our position as the party of economic competence and Sound finance. If we argue instead that there is no limit to what we can spend, that we can simply borrow our way out of any hole then what is the difference between us and the Labour Party.

Three weeks later it was time for him to present his Winter Economy Plan (WEP). He got mixed reviews from Twitter users to this tweet:

Last Wednesday, he had his photo taken with two women — Frances O’Grady from the Trades Union Congress and Carolyn Fairbairn from the Confederation of Business Industry:

The Hansard record of the WEP is here.

Guido Fawkes has a short version with the highlights of Rishi’s statement in the House of Commons, excerpted below:

– £12bn spent on Test and Trace so far;

– a warning that the economy will be undergoing ‘a more permanent readjustment’;

– a new six-month Job Support Scheme focussing on ‘viable’ jobs will replace furlough, as some furloughed jobs are now gone for good; targeted at SMEs, people must work 1/3 of their normal hours and the government will cover 2/3 of the pay they normally would have received;

– the grant to the self-employed is extended, running along the same terms as the aforementioned new jobs scheme;

– the business loan schemes deadline has been extended to the end of 2020; a new scheme will come into force in January;

– there are two business loan schemes: one involves bounceback loans, including the new Pay As You Grow, which can be extended from six to ten years with the flexibility of pausing payments or making interest-only payments; the other, coronavirus business interruption loans, now have an extended government guarantee, which is up to ten years;

– the lower 5% VAT rate for hospitality and tourism extended to March 31, 2021.

The Sun has an excellent guide on the new Job Support Scheme that replaces furlough.

The paper also has an article explaining what constitutes a ‘viable job’.

Sunak has a delicate balancing act. We have good news and bad:

Guido has more on borrowing, tax receipts and unemployment.

Be afraid. Be very afraid. Lockdown was a dangerous idea. May we never repeat it.

Sunak ended his WEP with the following (emphases mine):

We have so often spoken about the virus in terms of lives lost, but the price our country is paying is wider than that. The Government have done much to mitigate the effects of those awful trade-offs between health, education, and employment, and as we think about the next few weeks and months, we must bear all those costs in mind. As such, it would be dishonest to say that there is now a risk-free solution, or that we can mandate behaviour to such an extent that we lose any sense of personal responsibility. What was true at the beginning of this crisis remains true now: it is on all of us, and we must learn to live with it, and live without fear. I commend this statement to the House.

Yes! Thank you!

The Daily Mail‘s Simon Walters wrote an excellent analysis of Sunak’s statement: ‘The day Rishi Sunak ripped up the truce in Downing Street’.

Walters begins with thoughts on the words ‘live without fear’:

They were the three words which spoke volumes about the rift between the Prime Minister and his Chancellor.

Closing his statement to the Commons on his new Covid jobs-rescue package yesterday, Rishi Sunak defiantly gave us a new slogan: ‘Live Without Fear.’

He was telling us that we have to learn to live with the virus – and stop the country and our benighted economy from total collapse.

His approach is much different to that of his boss, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who seems afraid to reopen the nation. Walters offers this analysis:

Yesterday, Mr Sunak declared there was another way to deal with the crisis.

Tellingly, Mr Johnson chose not to be at the Chancellor’s side in the Commons yesterday, preferring to visit Northamptonshire Police HQ instead. It was the sort of routine visit prime ministers make on a Friday, when nothing much happens in the Commons.

But yesterday, a lot was happening in the Commons. Perhaps beleaguered Mr Johnson could not bring himself to sit alongside his Downing Street neighbour.

The day before, Boris gave a press conference saying that draconian coronavirus measures will stay in place for the foreseeable future:

It could not have been more different to the hollow cod-Churchillian rhetoric of Mr Johnson in a television broadcast on Wednesday.

Don’t go to work, beware soldiers on the streets, don’t stay out after 10pm at night and don’t break the rules or you’ll be fined £10,000, he said, jabbing his finger at millions of viewers.

In short: Live With Fear. Number 10 insisted it had cleared Mr Sunak’s speech in advance, and approved of the last three words.

Walters thinks that Sunak might be a proxy for Boris to reassert his own libertarian instincts at a time when he feels incapable of so doing:

Some Tory MPs suggested the Prime Minister, shackled by medics and boffins forcing him to play safe, had cleverly ‘licensed’ the Chancellor to act as a proxy for his own libertarian instincts.

The harsh reality, however, is that if it was an act of defiance, such is sinewy Sunak’s burgeoning political muscle, Johnson would not be able to gag him. 

There also appears to be a Cabinet split on coronavirus measures. Part of this is because of their orientation as Conservatives:

With rumours swirling in Westminster – fiercely denied by Downing Street – that Mr Johnson is fed up, hard up, even planning to up stakes and leave No 10 in the new year, Covid has become the focus of a power struggle between two Cabinet factions.

When Mr Johnson was agonising last week over introducing the new six-month coronavirus crackdown, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and Health Secretary Matt Hancock urged him to impose a Covid ‘circuit breaker’ including shutting pubs and restaurants for two weeks. They thought they had won him over.

But they had reckoned without Mr Sunak. Backed by Home Secretary Priti Patel and Business Secretary Alok Sharma, the Chancellor intervened. He demanded to speak to Mr Johnson and bluntly told him the fiercely ambitious Gove and Hancock were wrong.

Mr Sunak made clear that any new lockdown could lay waste to business and jobs, just when there were signs that the coronavirus-battered economy was picking itself up from the floor.

Mr Johnson was reduced to a political ‘piggy in the middle’, forced to tread a delicate balancing act between the two Cabinet Covid tribes. Although neither Mr Gove nor Mr Hancock are old-fashioned ‘silver spoon’ Tories, they, like Mr Johnson, have treated politics as a ruthless game since their debating days at Oxford

They have all modelled themselves as post-Thatcher Tories. Sunak, Patel and Sharma, who all have Indian parents who emigrated to Britain, are not ashamed to call themselves Thatcherites.

Oh, boy.

Walters says that the photo above with the heads of the TUC and CBI, representing both sides of the spectrum, was no accident. It is meant to send the right visual message:

In a slick piece of political choreography, Mr Sunak showed he is more than a ‘son of Thatcher’ by posing on the steps of No 11 before his Commons statement, flanked by CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn, and, remarkably, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady.

A Tory Chancellor with the respected leaders of both the biggest bosses and union organisations standing at his side, both of them pillars of support.

There have been many calls for a wartime style government of national unity to fight the pandemic. Here was Sunak’s version.

The fact that both those ‘pillars’ are succesful modern women made it all the more striking.

Although Walters acknowledges the rumours that Boris might leave No. 10, he says that they are premature.

I agree.

My own view is that Boris is great at dealing with issues such as Brexit. Coronavirus, on the other hand, is a health issue, and I don’t think that is his forte.

Walters says that Boris needs to rediscover his sense of conviction, upon which he won an 80-seat majority in December 2019.

I think Boris will do that, once we get closer to leaving the EU.

For now, I’m grateful we have a Chancellor who can tell us the truth about the economy in light of coronavirus — and help vulnerable people in the meantime.

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