I have witnessed at least 25 budgets in my time at Westminster, some more remarkable and successful than others. The budget this week was noteworthy for several reasons.
First, I cannot recall such a laser-like focus on identifying a short-term problem and then laying out the strategy and means to tackle it. Right from the word go, the Chancellor – no flowery words or introduction – raised the likely economic impact of Coronavirus and articulated the robust way in which the government would support the NHS, individuals and businesses through some very challenging months. An impressive beginning.
Secondly, as well as dealing intelligently and forcefully with this crisis, he then went on to set out a long term plan for investing in this country’s infrastructure. Precisely the remedy that our great nation now needs: if government will put the right infrastructure in place the hard work and ingenuity of the British people will do the rest to create the jobs and prosperity we need. There has never been a better time for the government to borrow – some of its Treasury borrowing in the next few months will be at zero interest rates!
The key thing in politics is doing the right thing at the right time. We can only allow more borrowing now, because the tough decisions since 2010 to get our nation’s deficit under control were made then. Austerity was tough but necessary. Now we can borrow to invest in road, rail and broadband and we can do this without compromising our targets for carbon emissions and sustainability. The next five years, once we get beyond this medical challenge, should see a significant improvement in our country’s capacity to generate growth in a sustainable way.
Finally, it is rare to see a new politician explode onto the national stage in the way that Rishi Sunak has. Admit it, most of you have never heard of him. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were obviously special from day one, David Cameron also caught the eye as soon as he entered Parliament. But to produce a budget that was so strategic and clear as Rishi did yesterday, and to deliver it so confidently after 4 weeks in the job, was very special. It is some years away, but I think we may have found our next leader.
We have a clear economic strategy to get through coronavirus as well as shape our future for the next decade. A good day’s work.