We are still in the very early stages of this crisis and already we risk becoming desensitised to the kind of language deployed by our leaders.
The Prime Minister says he’s running “a wartime government” while the chancellor tells the country “never in peacetime have we faced an economic fight like this one”.
The words are without precedent in modern Britain, and yet they are now normal. Words matter a great deal, of course, and amid the battle cries and rousing rhetoric, a simple phrase stood out yesterday as the PM and chancellor spoke.
It will be familiar to many readers and its constant repetition was no accident. It was 2012 when Mario Draghi used a speech in London to reassure the markets that the European Central Bank would do “whatever it takes” to defend the Eurozone.
From a central banker whose eyebrow movements could move markets, it was taken as a total commitment to use the full resources of the ECB (and resources hitherto unimagined) to prevent economic disaster.
And it was enough. Yesterday, Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak set out to deliver the same message. Whatever it takes. Their opening salvo involved committing the equivalent of 15 per cent of the UK’s GDP to an emergency package of support — covering everything from business rate relief to emergency loans, support covering salaries, lost income and even mortgage repayments.
Additionally Sunak pledged specific support for the airline industry and airports, support for firms whose insurance won’t cover the impact of the virus and, crucially, an open-ended pledge to do more and go further.
Last week’s Budget, which feels like a lifetime ago, now looks like a mere amuse-bouche alongside the groaning menu of policies and pledges announced yesterday. And yet, after economists and analysts digested it, they almost all turned around and said “it won’t be enough”.
Sunak himself recognised this in his own statement, saying: “This is not a time for ideology and orthodoxy, this is a time to be bold, a time for courage.” Churchillian rhetoric aside, it’s also now a time of eye-watering deficits, high-risk economic improvisation and unknowable longterm consequences.
Once we get through this, we’ll find ourselves in dramatically different waters — with all the financial and political implications that entails.
Main image: Getty