he chancellor, Rishi Sunak, obviously has a flair for publicity and the right phrase – and he is fond of reminding us that during his first Budget last year he said that he “would do whatever it takes” to support the economy during the Covid-19 pandemic. He did so again during this latest Budget. Mostly, he has lived up to it, though there remain important gaps in the web of measures that have sprouted since last spring and the first lockdown.
The result has been that Mr Sunak has plonked himself firmly in the record books – with the national debt now sitting at more than £2 trillion, the highest in about six decades, and £407bn set to be spent dealing with the effects of the Covid crisis. Had he not done so, however, the 10 per cent drop in national income, the steepest in 300 years, would have been even sharper, and the severe recession would have turned into a protracted slump.
So when the chancellor says he has done whatever it takes, he has also had little real choice in the matter, economically or politically. He should continue to do whatever it takes, and he should also have made a virtue of necessity by pledging to continue the central support schemes, particularly those protecting jobs, for as long as the public health crisis continues, rather than by setting down decisive dates.