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No such thing as a free lunch ?

Updated: Oct 3, 2020

The chancellor’s been splashing the cash big time, even offering half-price meals. But punters aren’t so sure, and economists are convinced of only one thing – that there’ll be a tab to be picked up one day. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, Boris Johnson lacks one of the key qualifications for any Prime Minister. He has not been lucky.

‘Money, money, money. Must be funny. In the rich man’s world. Money, money, money. Always sunny. In the rich man’s world.’

The words of that 1976 hit song from Abba have a wistful relevance today, as Rishi Sunak, Dishy Rishi to his friends, doles out the dosh in the hope of cheering us all up.

Last week’s so-called mini-budget was actually a monster-package. Needed to be as, on Sunak’s own admission, the UK economy had lost nearly twenty years’ worth of growth in just two months.

All down to to coronavirus, obvs. Something even the government’s harshest critics can hardly accuse it of having invented. Just rotten luck. No getting round it.

The financial crash of twelve years ago wasn’t the fault of the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown either, but he paid a horrible political price for bailing out the banks after Wall Street spivs almost wrecked the world’s economy.

Last week the chancellor had to ramp up the nation’s debt twice as high as Brown did, which gives an idea of the scale of what he’s up against.

Little wonder number-crunchers like the Institute for Fiscal Studies have been busy doing wee wees on his birthday cake. Warning of future tax rises or public spending cuts to pay for it all.

Not just yet, however. For now Rishi’s ratings among the public are higher than those of the Prime Minister.

Though there’s a word of warning from the special adviser to a former chancellor. ‘You must never underestimate how personally other people take your success in Westminster – if you’re popular and liked you’ve immediately put a target on your back.’

Indeed the last person to have been judged as dishy as Rishi was Nick Clegg. Nick who …? Oh well, never mind.

For now, those of us lucky enough to be in a position to scoop up a slice of Sunak’s thirty billion pound package can rejoice. House buyers will pay less stamp duty and companies will get bonuses for hanging on to workers.

And, most eye-catching of all, we’re halfway to getting a free lunch.

Next month, on Mondays to Wednesdays, there will be an ‘eat out to help out’ fifty per cent discount at restaurants and pubs that are up for the scheme.

That got mouths watering in Fleet Street. The Telegraph headline read: ‘Come Dine With Me’. While the Metro plumped for ‘Grab a £10 Rishi Dishi’.

The new meal deal, however, seemed to clash with advice to people from Dr Jenny Harries, England’s deputy chief medical officer. To help fend off a second wave of Covid-19, she prescribed, ahem, losing weight.

The other minor inconvenience is that the nation’s not licking its lips as enthusiastically as the government about several aspects of the newly eased lockdown.

Not that we’ll get to see anyone’s lips, at least not in shops, if Bojo’s mask or be damned threat is carried out.

Then there’s his firm promise of a Super Saturday when pubs reopened their doors earlier this month.

In the event more than half of them stayed equally firmly shut, according to research by the data consultancy CGA.

Besides which, a YouGov poll last week showed just over half of Brits plan to carry on eating at home anyway. Healthily or otherwise.

Whether they’ll be getting down to the gym or leisure centre when both reopen later in the month remains to be seen.

Likewise getting the kids back to school in September.

According to a survey by Childcare.co.uk, a quarter of parents won’t do it, even though they could be fined sixty quid, per child, for every unauthorised absence.

The vast majority of the refuseniks thought the government was ignoring the dangers and bulldozing the whole thing through for purely economic reasons.

And how about the screeching U-turn over people returning from holidays abroad having to go into quarantine for a fortnight?

Another YouGov survey found the vast majority of us would prefer a staycation anyway. Only a fifth of those questioned would even be ‘willing to consider’ visiting France or Spain this year.

Happens the feeling’s mutual. The same poll showed people in France, Spain, Italy and Germany were more opposed to British tourists than those from any other European country.

Only visitors from China and the United States were less welcome than us lot because of the high coronavirus infection rate.

And there’s no escaping the fact that without a sure-fire vaccine nasty diseases don’t just go away. Not ever.

This month there’ve been one or two reported cases, in China and Mongolia … of bubonic plague.

Time to form a circle and start singing ‘Ring-a-ring o’ roses, a pocket full of posies, a-tishoo! a-tishoo! We all fall down?’

Not that bad, actually. Isolated cases. Even The World Health Organisation isn’t taking the matter too seriously.

And anyway, the ultimate antidote to Covid-19 is inching towards reality.

The London-based pharmaceutical giant Glaxosmithkline has linked with a Canadian outfit part-owned by, of all things, a US tobacco company – to provide a double-whammy vaccine.

Pre-clinical trials already under way have shown good results, and the next phase will begin within days.

The backers are that confident they’re already building a factory in Quebec capable of producing a hundred million doses a year by the end of 2023.

Not only that, this stuff could also help with other infectious diseases, and with different Covid vaccines, including one being developed by the French drug company Sanofi.

It’s reported the British government is close to sealing a £500 million deal with these guys.

And there’s more good news kicking around below the radar.

Not that it’s hugely welcome from Boris Johnson’s point of view, now that he’s trying to talk folk into getting back to the office.

According to a survey by Halifax, almost one in three employees are planning to keep working from home after the coronavirus restrictions end.

The reason being many of them see the new lifestyle as an ‘environmental wake-up call’ and a chance to do something about climate change.

Some could also enjoy ever so much better weather right now, as the government in the Caribbean is considering the relocation deal to die for.

The idea is a ‘Barbados Welcome Stamp’, which would allow international arrivals to live on the island while working remotely for up to a year.

Nearly half the local income comes from tourism, which has been ripped to shreds by the pandemic. This could solve the problem nicely.

Help could also be at hand for anyone who’s been up to no good, any old how, anywhere.

It’s contained in one Catholic church’s response to a shortage of available priests, presumably due to the exigencies of coronavirus.

A notice spotted by an eagle-eyed snapper advises worshippers to make their confessions ‘To the point – no need to explain why you did it’.

Not sure you could make that bit up. But it’s true, nonetheless.

Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.

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