More money for schools, hospitals and police is welcome – but don’t be fooled by promises of the end of austerity
The roots of Wednesday’s extraordinary performance by the chancellor, Sajid Javid, stretch back at least two and a half years. In the 2017 general election, a nurse on Question Time asked Theresa May why her pay hadn’t gone up once in real terms since 2009. The then prime minister’s response? “There isn’t a magic money tree that we can shake that suddenly provides for everything that people want.” One of the most infamous remarks of a car-crash campaign by the Conservatives, it helped teach the party something: it could not win another election by promising further austerity. Scroll forward to autumn 2019 and another prime minister evidently revving up to go to the country. Boris Johnson has learned his lesson: his government needs to be seen to be caring, compassionate, responsive to the country’s problems. It needs to be seen to be spending.
Which brings us to Wednesday afternoon and a spending round unlike any other. It took place a year after it was scheduled and only covers one year, rather than the traditional three. Even by the standards of this most nakedly political of major Treasury announcements, Mr Javid acted like he was giving a stump speech. Or at least he tried to, until he was repeatedly pulled up by the Speaker, John Bercow. The result was a messy, rambling performance taking in vignettes from Mr Javid’s childhood, paeans to a “global Britain” and choruses that “we are turning the page on austerity”.
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