Andy Richardson: 'Sunak's greatest tests lie ahead'
When Chancellor Rishi Sunak unexpectedly took the top finance job in the UK, he was viewed as Boris’s stooge.
The Oxford-educated former investment banker, whose wife is the daughter of an Indian billionaire has, however, been the standout minister during Covid-19. While others have been leaden, revealing ineptitude, Sunak has shone. Reminding Boris Johnson of his own political mortality, the Stanford University alumni has provided stark contrast to those who have made basic errors and displayed worrying mediocrity.
It is odd that a Conservative should have been accused of investing too much money in the economy, yet his generous furlough packages, targeted support for ailing businesses and sectoral assistance for industries that would otherwise have collapsed have set him apart. He is not the only Government success: the speed at which Nightingale hospitals were built also deserved great credit. Beyond that, the performance has been generally poor; a C-minus or D-plus, and Sunak has been the Conservative’s most valued player.
Yet it might also be said that we still know little of his political colours. He has been cast in the role of fire fighter, dampening blazes and preventing others. Soon that will change as he decides how we will fund a debt that has ballooned to being larger than the economy itself. Will he raise taxes? There would appear to be little choice but to do so; for his political master has already ruled out austerity and the public sector was so hollowed out by 10 years of cut backs that there are few savings to be made.
Will he abandon the triple lock on pensions? Though it would be unpopular with some, he ought to. Even Labour’s former Home Secretary Alan Johnson has described it as unsustainably generous and iniquitous, at a time when the young are suffering most. Perhaps the 2.5 per cent OAP guarantee will go.
Sunak, elected to serve Richmond, Yorkshire, in 2015, has many tough decisions to make as he simultaneously tries to prop up the economy, stimulate demand for at-risk sectors, avoid wholescale unemployment and pay for his largesse.
Lest we forget, Britain is at the start of a transformative change. The ideological war over Brexit may have been won by those who wanted to leave, but the costs and impacts have yet to be truly assessed.
Sunak has thus far performed admirably, but his greatest tests lie ahead.
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