One of the many depressing aspects of Rishi Sunak’s financial statement was not what it was but how popular it was. In slashing Britain’s overseas aid budget, nearly a million children will not get an education, four million will be not get clean water and nearly six million children will not be vaccinated against disease. These things and more will lead to the deaths of 100,000 of the poorest people in the world. But it’s okay because they are foreign people and “we should first look after our own”. That’s why Sunak is also slashing Universal Credit by £20 a week from April, he is making huge cuts to vital public services and he is freezing the wages of people we were clapping on our doorsteps just a few months ago. These are “our own”.
Overseas aid is unpopular. Sunak knows that because he is the chancellor in a government that, even without Dominic Cummings, trawls through data and trails policies through countless focus groups. He also deliberately invoked the culture wars by setting private sector workers up against public sector workers by saying he could not justify paying money to the latter when the former were struggling. This is nothing new. It is the same private good, public bad argument Tories have deployed throughout history.
Ever since Sunak arrived, the electorate has warmed to him. He’s smooth, he’s in control; he has oodles of free money. He’s a bit different to typical Tories, like Johnson, because he is honest. Yet now we see his true colours.
Let’s be very clear about this. COVID-19 has been very good for the better off, especially those who have friends in government. Whether it’s betting on the stock market or winning lucrative government contracts that, for some reason, have not gone out to tender, as Sunak starts on the long road to reduce our national dead and the ongoing deficit, it is becoming clear that it will not be the friends of Dishy Rishi who will bear the brunt of the coming pain.
Even when things are very bad, as they will become in 2021, it will be the little people who have little who will be told they have to manage on even less. As with his predecessor George Osborne, the rich were supposedly hit with higher tax bills – “those with the broadest shoulders must bear the heaviest load” was perhaps Osborne’s greatest lie – Sunak will do the same. He is doing the same. If you are well off, you will not need Universal Credit and in any event a £20 weekly cut wouldn’t even be noticed. For those struggling to put food on the table, the struggle is only beginning. In foreign lands, thousands will die, but as those people aren’t “our own”, they don’t somehow matter so much.
But we don’t really care that much about “our own” either. Most of us can afford to put bread on the table and everyone who is on benefits is probably a scrounger. After all, that’s what the Sun and Mail always tell us. We don’t want to spend any money on foreigners or our own. Those who are blind should learn to see, those with no legs should learn to walk. Trust me: there are people out there who truly believe in a version of that.
Sunak is an old style Tory and nasty with it. He just sounds and looks more sincere, that’s all. With a personal fortune of £200m and a father in law worth £2.5billion, he has no idea what it’s like to wonder where your next meal is coming from and worst of all he doesn’t care. He will make the poor pay for COVID-19, as they paid for the financial crash of 2008. And who’s to say that in 2024, a Tory party led by him won’t enter Number 10?