A land, sea and air assault on the middle classes: HENRY DEEDES sees Jeremy Hunt serve up vast ladles of pain and misery seasoned with generous sprinklings of doom and gloom
Even the grimmest budget announcement generally holds a buried note of hope, hinting at a new Elysium looming on the horizon, a glittering Shangri-La where the children of tomorrow will wear gold-threaded pyjamas while the grown-ups feast on stuffed quails and freshly-shucked oysters.
Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement was nothing of the sort. Quite the opposite in fact. The only dish the Chancellor was serving up was vast ladles of pain and misery, seasoned with generous sprinklings of doom and gloom.
No wonder Conservative backbenchers sat slumped so disconsolately, their faces droopier than jet-lagged Basset Hounds.
For fifty minutes they listened as Hunt launched an air, sea and land assault on the already squeezed-to-the-pips middle classes: Taxes up, spending down with predictions of high unemployment and lower living standards.
Try being a Tory MP and selling that to your constituents this Christmas without inviting volley of fruity invective in return.
No wonder Conservative backbenchers sat slumped so disconsolately, their faces droopier than jet-lagged Basset Hounds
The Chancellor could not have got a soggier reception had he turned up on stage at the Glasgow Empire with a kilted ventriloquist dummy on his lap
Hunt’s delivery didn’t help. He speaks in a patronising, eat-yer-greens sort of tone, the way a fatherly GP might speak to a child before presenting them with a lollipop (Pictured: The Labour frontbench reacts as Hunt gives his statement)
We would get through this with ‘British resilience and British compassion’, he said. Coming from moneybags Hunt, that last remark left a nasty tang
This was a fiscal statement the likes of which most of us have never seen. Gone were roars from the home side which usually greet every announcement. Instead, almost all of Hunt’s plans were received by his own benches in sober, stone cold silence. Tumbleweed alley. So quiet you could practically hear the wood lice yawning.
The Chancellor could not have got a soggier reception had he turned up on stage at the Glasgow Empire with a kilted ventriloquist dummy on his lap.
You could tell Mr Hunt knew he was in for rough ride by the way he entered the chamber, ducking low with one hand covering his head. A World War One Tommy darting through No Man’s Land and trying to avoid enemy sniper fire.
As soon as he stood to take his place at the despatch box, the mood music turned dramatically sombre. Hunt spoke of ‘global headwinds’ and ‘difficult decisions’. But we would get through this with ‘British resilience and British compassion’, he said.
Coming from moneybags Hunt, that last remark left a nasty tang.
This was a statement almost entirely devoid of ambition. His main priority was ‘stability, growth and public services’, as if his predecessors had never considered such a thing. There was a vague plan to turn Britain into Silicon Valley. Presumably without all the debauched drug-addled sex parties we keep hearing about.
Hunt’s delivery didn’t help. He speaks in a patronising, eat-yer-greens sort of tone, the way a fatherly GP might speak to a child before presenting them with a lollipop.
There were times when he sounded a little too gleeful. It was depressing to hear him talk of having ‘no objection’ to windfall taxes as though he couldn’t wait to start slapping successful companies with extra penalties. Amid the Labour guffaws, several Tory MPs groaned.
That’s not to say the Chancellor wasn’t totally without support. Up in the strangers’ gallery was wife Lucia and their young son staring down proudly. Just as mothers go all blubbery when their tots deliver a tone deaf rendition of Silent Night during the school nativity, so do Chancellor’s spouses gaze adoringly at their loved one as they waxunlyrical about the finer points of fiscal drag.
Back down in the angry bear pit, Hunt had moved on to the never-ending NHS crisis. He planned to appoint Tony Blair’s former heath secretary Patricia Hewitt as an adviser. Please God, no! Not bossy, finger wagging, Patricia patrolling the hospital wards again.
On top of that, he would be awarding the health service another £3.3billion a year. Apparently, NHS chief Amanda Pritchard had assured Hunt such amounts were ‘sufficient’. Do me a favour. She’ll chew though that cash quicker that a Doberman devours a juicy hunk of tenderloin.
Behind Hunt’s right shoulder perched Boris Johnson pulling an array of quizzical faces. Not a numbers man, Boris. Hunt might as well have speaking in Swahili for all the former PM understands about economics.
Incidentally, Boris scored something of a double in the chamber yesterday by successfully blanking both Theresa May and Sajid Javid, neither of whom are on his Christmas card list. Sadly he never got a chance to snub Rishi Sunak. Otherwise Bozza could have bagged a hat trick.
No sooner had Hunt sat down than shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves was up on her feet, her shiny Richard III hair bob swishing excitedly from side.
Her speech was as predictable and pre-packaged as microwavable macaroni, accusing the Government of delivering the country an ‘invoice for economic carnage’. Mind you, unlike Hunt at least she gave her colleagues something to shout about .
Not among Reeves’s cheerleaders were Parliament’s answer to those crotchety Muppet characters Statler and Waldorf. I speak of course of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, who were seated next to one another and tapping away furiously on their pocket calculators. Comparing wonky sums perhaps. Time was when we feared should this dangerous duo ever gain power they would rinse the middle class dry. Sadly, Jeremy Hunt seems set on doing their dirty work for them.
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