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Budget 2021: To Pay or Not to Pay?

Budget 2021: To Pay or Not to Pay?

Rishi Sunak holding up Budget briefcase

A wicked week. So many huge numbers. Budgets make eyeballs bulge, and baffle all but the pointy-heads. And yet, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, there’s reassurance for real people that the government will pick up most of the vital tabs until the worst of the pandemic is over.

The furlough scheme will be extended through the summer. So will other essential protections, like the Universal Credit uplift. Plus booze and fuel duties are frozen, and the stamp duty holiday extended.

In a few years the colossal four-hundred-billion-pounds-plus debt will start being repaid. Much of it by bigger businesses.

Handily, from the government’s point of view, around the time the next election’s due to take place.

Meaning they can tell voters it’s those with the money who’ve got to put their hands in their pockets.

Which is probably why it’s played so well with voters. The latest YouGov poll puts the Tories a clear thirteen points ahead of Labour.

The biggest tax rises in thirty years? So? Comfortably over half those asked said this was ‘fair’.

But, as always, it takes a day or so for horrid little details to rear their ugly little heads.

Like the pay rise for NHS staff.

At one per cent, that looks set to be a real-terms cut. And certainly way, way short of the twelve-and-a-half per cent they were asking for.

So much for clap for carers. More a slap for carers in the view of many.

OK, the nation’s strapped for cash, like the rest of the world. But it feels more tone deaf than deft. Not good for the Dishi Rishi brand.

Just when much of the commentariat had Sunak down as the obvious successor to Bojo.

And yet, if he is the main man come the next election he’ll have a surprising card to play.

It’s been conventional Conservative wisdom for years to argue tax hikes on business depress investment. Meaning they’re counterproductive.

Naturally enough, that’s music to the ears of all those well-heeled core voters and party donors. Less so to those struggling to make a buck.

But this volte face will enable Sunak to say: ‘Same old Tories? Moi? Don’t think so, do you?’

There’s been a few volte faces of late, as it happens. Not least sur le continong.

Remember how Oxford Uni’s AstraZeneca was a Bad Thing, according to the German government?

Well, it isn’t any more.

What’s more the latest evidence shows just one dose of this stuff, or the Pfizer-BioNTech version, gives people at least eighty-per-cent protection.

Hardly surprising, in the circs, that getting on for half of those who’ve been injected have already started bending the rules.

Straight to bed with no tea, of course.

But, crucially, Doctor Mary Ramsay of Public Health England says it looks like the jab does prevent people passing the disease on to others.

She adds this should make a quick and permanent easing of restrictions that much more of a runner.

Staycations this year very much on the agenda. Prices up, mind, but owners have costs to recoup, same as everyone else.

And Cyprus, ever hopeful, is saying to vaccinated Brits come on in, the water’s lovely.

England’s deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, is just as optimistic:

‘If we give this vaccine programme time to have its full effect, it is going to hopefully take us into a very different world in the next few months.’

And it is steaming ahead.

Nadhim Zahawi, the minister responsible for getting it out, says a big supply boost is on its way. Raising the prospect of five million jabs a week.

By some calculations, every eligible British adult will have had both doses by July.

And another thing. The government’s ordered thirty million doses of the Johnson & Johnson jab, which could come on stream in weeks.

This one only needs a single shot. Which makes it extra special.

Bojo’s a bit too fond of the term ‘world-beating’. But there’s no question UK has run rings round Europe.

Well over twenty million Brits have been inoculated. As opposed to Germany, which has only managed a fifth of that number.

And the muddle the European Union’s got into over it all will doubtless gladden the hearts of hardcore Brexiteers.

They might bear in mind, though, calculations made by the independent and respected Office for Budget Responsibility about the cost of leaving.

Even if things pick up nicely this year, they say, Brexit will still suck more out of our economy than the whole of the pandemic.

Which does indeed suck, when you think about it.

Seems ex-princess Meghan thinks the same about Buck House looking into claims she bullied staff members when she was a working royal.

Her allies also point to the odd disparity between ‘The Firm’ being all over that while not having gone there in regard to Prince Andrew.

Even if the good lady is proved to have been a bit gobby, they say, it’s not exactly on a par with being linked to bad stuff involving kids.

The royal family did not, after all, publicly announce a probe into Prince Andrew’s friendship with the late Jeffrey Epstein, who was charged with sex trafficking minors.

Double standard, somewhere?

The same’s being said of the almighty legal imbroglio concerning Scotland’s First Minister and her one-time mentor Alex Salmond.

He was eventually cleared on multiple counts of taking advantage of ladies, to put it euphemistically.

And she stood accused of so mishandling the affair that she could in the end have to resign.

After her impassioned eight-hour defence testimony last week there’s a sense she’ll ride the storm.

But the nasty taste remains… that somehow or other powerful blokes can get away with more than their female counterparts.

Still, one notable woman sure did have her say last week.

Legendary country singer Dolly Parton was so keen to get fellow Americans to get the corona injection she had hers on telly.

And, in the course of her appearance, she adapted the words of her famous song ‘Jolene’.

Apparently the huge hit was a true story. About a ravishing redhead who flirted too freely with the newlywed Parton’s husband.

The new words also had ring of truth about them.

‘Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, I’m begging of you, please don’t hesitate.

‘Cos once you’re dead it’s a bit too late.’

Not one for holding back, that one.

Same as another grownup female who hit the headlines last week.

Wisdom, who lives on Midway Atoll in the North Pacific, had a baby. Which is pretty good going, as she’s at least seventy.

She has outlived the expert who first clocked her, back in 1956. And, it’s assumed, one or two partners as well.

But she’s been having offspring with her current squeeze, who’s called Akeakami, for getting on for ten years now.

Oh and btw, two things.

One: She’s thought to be the oldest of her race to be alive, not to mention being a mother, in the world.

And two: She’s an albatross.

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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