SIMON WALTERS: Mr Moneybags Rishi Sunak has made it abundantly clear about coronavirus aid packages… he wants it all back
During his six weeks as Chancellor, the sight of Rishi Sunak standing at the Downing Street lectern giving away billions has become so familiar you would expect less cash if a magic money tree appeared in his place.
But Sunak was not just Mr Moneybags yesterday: He made it crystal clear that he wants it all back.
In doing so he passed the first test of any politician who wants to be taken seriously – he showed he had the ability and courage to announce bad news as well as good.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak holding a digital press conference about the coronavirus outbreak
He told the self-employed that in return for the help he gave them, they will no longer be able to pay less tax than others.
If we all want to benefit, he said in explicit terms, we must all pay in equally.
But the self-employed won’t be the only ones who pay more. Everyone will have to ‘chip in to right the ship’, said Sunak.
An apt metaphor from a man who grew up in the port of Southampton.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak outside 10 Downing Street, London, joining in with a national applause for the NHS to show appreciation for all NHS workers who are helping to fight the Coronavirus
It could mean tax rises for all of us, public spending cuts, maybe both. Sunak didn’t say when or how. It won’t be before Covid-19 is defeated but he wanted everyone to know: His day of reckoning will come.
Sunak, a former banker, will be aware of the growing number of experts warning of the danger that the cost of the coronavirus cure may be worse than disease itself. That the scale of the damage to Britain’s and the wider global economy could be such that it causes huge hits not just to jobs and public finances but to our economic health too, claiming more lives than Covid-19.
Nor is it just Donald Trump who is making this argument. It is a view shared by some ministers – though not surprisingly, none has been bold enough to utter it in public.
The moment he delivered his Budget less than a month after taking office with such precocious confidence, I thought Sunak had the makings of a future prime minister.
It clearly wasn’t a fluke. His two successive performances have been every bit as assured. For all his qualities, Boris Johnson’s critics say one of the reasons he has at times appeared uncertain responding to coronavirus is because his cheery temperament is not suited to breaking bad news. Sunak showed no such hesitation yesterday. Instead of leaving it to aides to do his dirty work with anonymous briefings of future tax rises, like so many cowardly ministers, Sunak announced it from No 10 with half the nation watching live on TV
It could not have been more plain if he had held up a placard stating: Taxpayers, you have been warned.
Sunak learned the basics of good housekeeping as a teenager, doing the accounts for his mum’s pharmacy. Margaret Thatcher learned the same timeless Conservative principles from her shopkeeper dad.