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Scrooge on the Scrounge

With the cost of borrowing and buying already rocketing, the Chancellor’s mini-maxi-budget could hardly be expected to spread pre-festive cheer. But at least it hasn’t made matters monumentally worse, unlike the last one. Nor, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, can any of us say we weren’t warned.

Back in 1947, the Chancellor had to resign for tipping off a journalist about his budget headlines. This time Jeremy Hunt pre-briefed pretty much all of it, with impunity.

Funny how times change.

The hapless Hugh Dalton breezily told an evening paper hack about his plans for booze, fags and the gee gees on his way into the chamber.

His theory being he’d have made his speech long before the paper hit the streets. Tough luck on him that some silly parliamentary delay meant it didn’t work out that way.

Not only are they a bit less precious these days about MPs being the first to know, it was also deemed essential there should be no surprises when Hunt got to his feet.

Anything, the Treasury’s reasoning went, to prevent a repeat of the Truss/Kwarteng disaster, when unfunded tax cuts sprung on the markets gave them the collywobbles.

The City did not tank the economy after Thursday’s financial upsum precisely because it was exactly what it expected. So its response was a mere shrug of the shoulders.

No news is good news? Certainly so this time.

Not that that can diminish the grimness of the situation. The Metro newspaper neatly summed it up with a riff on a famous Harold MacMillan speech of yesteryear.

Instead of ‘you’ve never had it so good’, the splash read: ‘You’ve Never Had It So Bad.’

Certainly feels that way. Soaring inflation will mean the biggest fall in living standards since they started keeping a tally nearly seventy years ago.

Also, the budget means taxes will shoot up to historic levels, while the cost of paying back borrowed money has already more than doubled in the last year alone.

Whose fault is that then?

Hunt claimed it was all down to Russia, and its barbaric invasion of Ukraine. And there’s no question this has made things a whole lot worse.

But that is far from the whole picture.

Labour argues the Tories’ lacklustre handling of the economy since they took over twelve years ago has a lot to answer for.

Also, Liz Truss’s disastrous premiership cost us all dear.

Besides which, though Brexiteers won’t admit it, our departure terms badly hamper our trading ability with our biggest partner. Another drag on the economy.

And polling experts say that if punters see it all that way it’ll be the Conservatives picking up the political tab come the next election, in a couple of years’ time.

It may be an irony, or part of Hunt’s fiendishly clever calculation, or both, that he’s laid out what’s been dubbed ‘a mañana budget’.

That’s because many of the nastiest bits won’t bite until after the voters have made their choice.

Plus – another two-edged sword – if stuff doesn’t turn out to be as bad as forecasters predict then many of the cuts won’t be necessary after all.

Against that, if things haven’t changed for the better, and the Tories are chucked out, they’ll be Labour’s problem, not theirs.

Also, and once more Hunt seems to have played a canny hand, core voter concerns have been addressed.

Pensions will continue to rise in line with inflation, not the far lower figure of wage rises. And there will be more money for schools and hospitals.

That said, nearly all of the extra three-point-three billion pounds for the NHS will be soaked up by inflation and growing demand.

That’s according the Nuffield Trust research organisation, that looks into this sort of thing.

Very likely the extra funding for the education sector will find itself whittled away, for the same sort of reasons.

The other half of Hunt’s Austerity Mark Two, a range of tax hikes, won’t tickle the sweet spot of MPs on his own side any more than that of those having to shell out more.

Right-wing Tory backbenchers are busily huffing and puffing, but it remains to be seen whether they’ll try and blow the house down.

Certainly, they will not be buoyed by the view of a number of senior commentators, that the budget had a distinctly Labour party feel to it.

Nor are they impressed with Hunt’s hints that it’s time to build bridges with the European Union. As he put it:

‘I have great confidence that over the years ahead we will find .. we are able to remove the vast majority of the trade barriers that exist between us and the EU.’

The schism over just that has caused an existential blue-on-blue crisis for decades. If the debate’s reopened so will the floodgates of discord.

Also, a sizeable slice of the Brexiteers’ case was keeping immigration down.

So the Chancellor’s other pitch on Friday, that he’s not too fussed about a couple of hundred thousand more people coming in each year, will make them ever so cross.

With honourable friends like that, Hunt will doubtless be thinking, who needs enemies?

But again, what he’s saying will be music to the ears of much of the business community. Bosses have been campaigning for a long time now for more people from overseas.

That’s because big gaps in the labour force, for example in hospitality, construction and farming, do need filling. Urgently.

Not that any of that cuts any ice with the hardcore Leavers, which is why the old Brexit Party, now renamed Reform UK Party, is trying to muscle in on Tory territory.

Its new Mr Angryperson social media campaign claims: ‘The Tories choose to make us poorer.’

A worry for Sunak, as this could appeal to those less well-off folk from oop north who switched from Labour at the last election but could well flip back at the next.

In addition, in a nod in The Donald’s direction, the insurgents are bandying the slogan: ‘Let’s Make Britain Great.’

Certainly Trump’s hoping to make himself great again, with another pop at the presidency in defiance of the mid-term election evidence that his star’s waning.

He reckons he can get round that with a series of eye-catching promises, such as planting the American flag on Mars.

His detractors might suggest he go there himself, and doesn’t come back. Ideally taking that evil, deranged war criminal from the Kremlin with him.

That said, homecomings can also be profoundly joyful occasions.

Take the case of ten-year-old border collie Rosie, who was so scared by a firework earlier this month that she did a runner, in a Leicester park, from her owner.

In the end the poor man had no choice but to wander disconsolately home without her.

Imagine his relief then when someone rang to say they’d read the number on the dog’s ID tag, she was perfectly fine and would he mind coming to pick her up.

The someone in question was a police officer stationed at the local nick, where Rosie had trotted in and taken a seat in the waiting room.

No better place, surely, for any runaway to hand themselves in. But it does leave one question unanswered.

How, for heaven’s sake, could she possibly know that?


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