Rishi Sunak. File
James Moore, The Independent
“Chancellor, chancellor, are you really sure you want to do nothing?” For the sake of UK plc, you would rather hope there’s a flunky, a Spad (special advisor), or a civil servant willing to bend the ear of a man who appears to have gone missing in action at the worst possible time.
Treasury people are, as a rule, economically orthodox types not overly fond of spending money. That’s their job. But they also tend to be smart. So they ought to know that if ever there was a time to play against type, and to argue for the taps to be turned back on, it is now.
The government may not have said “thou shalt close” to the businesses worst affected by previous lockdowns, but their customers have taken their own view.
Forget all that talk about the “great resignation” — the pandemic leading to people quitting their jobs in the City to become basket weavers or crofters or Glastonbury crystal sellers.We’re now in the middle of the great cancellation. Pubs and restaurants fear a 40 per cent hit to their takings. Christmas parties are off the menu outside of government offices. People are raising their glasses at home.
Not a celeb and want to book a Michelin starred meal? If you’re okay with menaces bearing Greek names and have a suitably clear credit card, you might actually be able to do that.
Shops, the bricks and mortar kind, are feeling twitchy too. Curry’s has already warned of a slowdown in sales. Can a super heroic performance by the critically lauded Spiderman: No Way Home keep the cinemas’ turnstiles turning over the holiday period? It’s going to take that.
Just this morning, the Royal Albert Hall told me that omicron had had “a significant impact on our ticket sales for Christmas, just as we were rebuilding following a financially devastating time”.
The public has been reading the omicron tea leaves even if ministers haven’t. A substantial number of people have been thinking, Christ, guess it’s time to batten down the hatches once again. Things have started to get scary. Who’s job is it to renew the Netflix subs so we’ve something to do over Christmas?
They’re locking down even if Boris Johnson is too scared of his own back benchers to contemplate doing the same. British common sense? There’s been a notable absence of it in recent years. It seems to be returning.
There’s something vaguely comforting about that. It may even spare us (and Johnson) from an enforced closure. But this won’t come as much comfort to those at the sharp end of economic blow back, which is arriving with force.
What is depressing about the current situation is that lessons seem not to have been learned. Ministers are opting to stick their heads in the sand in the hope that — pop — omicron will just go away and the surge will die down thanks to people queuing up for their boosters. This is just magical thinking.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak was supposed to be the man possessed of an attribute – competence – that is otherwise disturbingly hard to find within the ranks of the current government.
Britain has one of the world’s worst per capita death tolls. It’s an appalling 150,000 and counting in raw numbers. The nation has suffered terribly from the virus’s depredations. The economic hit has also been fierce, but it could have been much worse were it not for Sunak’s relatively fleet footed actions and willingness to call upon external advice and help, including from ideological opponents such as the TUC.
His record has not been spotless. Eat Out to Help Out was a bit of a disaster. It arguably helped encourage the virus to spread last year. Cancelling the £20 Universal Credit uplift was wantonly cruel.
And yet, even with these black marks on his record, Mr Sunak’s report card still reads better than most of his peers. The grades have started to fall. Maybe it’s all that California sun he’s reportedly been lapping up.
This could still be solved quickly. If he’s leery of a reheated furlough — which I called for last week — how about some targeted support. That’d do the trick.