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Rishi Sunak ended the day as he began it, to the sound of fellow Tory MPs banging their desks in approval.
The support given by the Cabinet in the morning was unsurprising, particularly as Boris Johnson was by the chancellor’s side. But even when he flew solo at the early evening meeting of the backbench 1922 Committee, a body not normally in favour of borrowing-fuelled spending sprees, the reception was just as warm.
It’s likely too that Sunak’s summer “update” will go down well with many of the public who take advantage of its 50% midweek meal deal, are hired as apprentices or spared thousands in stamp duty. And even though this wasn’t a full-blown Budget, he managed to pull out the ‘rabbit’ of a six-month VAT cut that cheered many in the hospitality sector.
Yet with confirmation that the furlough scheme was definitely ending in October, this was in many ways a break-up speech with much of the British workforce. Even though it was tempered by “Dishi Rishi”’s soothing voice and long eyelashes, the message on the end of the affair was unmistakable: “It’s not you, it’s me (and my politics).”
To the nine million people currently dependent on the state paying 80% of their wages, he said: “It cannot and should not go on forever. I know that when furlough ends it will be a difficult moment.” But he didn’t want to give “false hope” that it will be possible to return to the jobs they had before.
There was even a bit of tough love: “The longer people are on furlough, the more likely it is their skills could fade, and they will find it harder to get new opportunities.” That sounded like “it’s better for both of us that we end this”. Anyone who has been on the receiving end of that particular sentiment (in work or relationships) knows that it’s not wholly true.
Still, even as he was effectively saying goodbye, the...