The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has played a bad hand very well since taking the job in February 2020, just as news of a strange and mysterious virus was beginning to bother the front pages.
It has helped that he has been playing with the equivalent of house money – borrowing huge sums in what became, effectively, the closest thing we’ve had to a genuine national war effort since 1945.He is now facing a new set of challenges.
Over the past few days, calls have come from just about every consumer-focussed industry in the land for more support as we navigate what is effectively lockdown-lite.
It has been labelled a lockdown by stealth, but the evidence is fairly obvious: empty pubs, shuttered restaurants, suspiciously cheap airline tickets.
This newspaper as much as any has been keen to point out that Covid-19 cannot become an excuse for spending as if there’s no tomorrow.
There are hard choices to be made in the future. But that doesn’t mean the Government can simply turn the taps off whilst pulling the plug out at the same time.
The current situation, in which vast swathes of the economy have effectively been kneecapped by government policy and rhetoric but have not received any new financial support, is untenable.
Being in California was not the best look for the Chancellor, and he’s wise to have come home and to have, finally, acknowledged the tough environment these businesses are operating in.
He is right to instinctively balk at further spending that will leave borrowing yet higher. But the risk of losing thousands of businesses across the country, due to government decisions, is of far greater import.
The recovery eggs in the UK have effectively been placed in the consumer spending bucket. The Chancellor must ensure there is somewhere for us to spend our savings windfall when we are released from our interminable lockdown purgatory – whenever that may be.