A quiet budget. A soothing budget. A smooth problem-free budget. This is what we are told is Jeremy Hunt’s ambition. A tinker here, a tweak there, with the odd nod in the direction of childcare or an elegant bending of the knee to the need to reform pensions to encourage people to work a bit more. Definitely no rabbits out of hats, absolutely no eye-catching initiatives. Nothing whatsoever that will startle or discomfort the markets. The memory of the catastrophe of the Truss/Kwarteng budget is still far too recent for comfort. That is the reality now for this government. It is not Rishi Sunak or Jeremy Hunt’s fault but it is their inheritance. The Chancellor knows it. The Prime Minister knows it. The markets know it. The key message therefore is to the markets – everything is under control, nothing to see here, please move swiftly on.
This may be the political reality for the government just now but at some point the balance of Britain’s spending, borrowing, and taxing is going to have to be addressed. Follow the Money by Paul Johnson is a superb look at how we spend our money, where we spend it and just how much we waste. It should be compulsory reading for every taxpayer and every voter. There is much that the British state does well and many of us rely on it for certain things. There are though incredible examples of where politics shoves out common-sense and wise action. The need for effective reforming budgets is fast coming, but not this week because the backdrop to this budget is anything but quiet.
Last week a small tech focussed bank in the United States failed. Yesterday, Sunday, at 7.30am the Chancellor had to issue an emergency statement outlining the measures he is taking to support those in Britain affected by the collapse. This morning everyone is anxiously watching market reaction. A banking crisis leading to a collapse in market confidence is not what we need. It is a reminder however that no matter how high we try to pull up the drawbridge to our island we are all profoundly and directly affected by what’s going on elsewhere in the world.
At home things are no less febrile. The Prime Minister has firmly staked his future on stopping the boats trafficking illegal migrants to our shores. To that end he has taken measures to thoroughly, he hopes, address the issue. Through Parliament he will push some tough and controversial legislation. Alongside that he went to Paris to negotiate a new deal, costing us half a billion pounds, with the French. There is strong support for the need to stop the illegal arrivals but the methods, and language employed by some, has provoked a feisty debate. It’s a debate No 10 may or may not want to promote but have it it certainly will.
This then led to the Gary Lineker row. Lineker posted a tweet the BBC decided it did not like. This led to him not appearing to present his football show and a hugely reduced amount of football coverage over the weekend. I have to confess to Reaction readers that I do not like football and do not watch programmes that report on football. It is therefore a relief to find less of it on the television. Nevertheless there are many who do like these things and Lineker’s absence from the screen has led to a huge row. This row, as these sorts of rows often are, is not really just about Lineker’s tweet – he’s been tweeting for a while now regularly attracting attention for his comments – as much as it is about how the BBC is run and who runs it. That’s a big topic and not one for here just now. Suffice to say the Prime Minister has enough on his plate just now without a leadership crisis at the BBC erupting.
Whilst the nation and its media were focussing on the BBC, which however you look at it is not a first class problem, actually important and much less reported events were going on elsewhere, but have potentially huge impact for us. The President of China secured for himself an unprecedented third term in office. The mutiny in certain parts of the Israeli army and the huge protests that are going on. Saudis and Arabia and Iran agreeing to restore relations in talks hosted by China. The Indian government’s approach to the media. The next steps in the AUKUS agreement. To name but a few. There is a lot going on and much of it affects or will affect us directly. A few days ago hardly any of us knew this American bank that has gone bust existed. Now the Chancellor is being forced to issue dawn statements on a Sunday morning and hoping against hope the markets stay calm on the following day. We must guard against an insularity in our national debate which distracts from those things that really matter and focuses on those things that actually do not matter very much at all.