That was a debut performance to remember. Kwasi Kwarteng stormed through his statement with such bravura conviction that the Opposition – and even some of his own side – were left breathless.
This was particularly remarkable because what he was proposing was so contentious: a point which he tacitly admitted and used as a badge of honour. This was to be nothing less than a revolution in the way government used fiscal policy to reinforce a political philosophy. He was doing much more than simply changing tax levels or planning restrictions. He was quite explicitly making use of the current crisis to institute what he called an “entrepreneurial share-owning democracy”.
This was a clear and resounding repudiation of the Big State-high tax interventionism that his own party had willingly embraced for the last decade. (So when Labour claims that his proposals amount to a rejection of his own party’s recent history in office, they are quite right – and thank God for that.)
So he was undaunted by the very occasional bursts of noise that the Labour benches managed to produce. He was frank – indeed positively bullish – about the daring moves he was taking. Much of the programme was unmistakably Thatcherite – supply side reform, incentivising work and making a Lawson-like cut in the highest rate of income tax.
But the new version had to take into account some new – and very alarming – circumstances.
The energy price crisis is unprecedented and it affects every household and every business venture in the country. I was struck by the fact that his opening remark was so obviously true – and yet had remained unstated until now. On the stratospheric energy price rises for home and business use that had been predicted, he said simply, “We were never going to let that happen.” There was no way that any elected government could have allowed even a small proportion of its population to die of hypothermia and a larger proportion to be pauperised. Whatever it took, however it was done, whatever the cost – that was not going to happen.
There were only two ways to fund a solution: by government borrowing or by raising taxes. This Chancellor and prime minister have chosen the former – which is a risk. But the latter solution – raising taxes in the midst of a cost of living crisis (Labour’s preferred formula) would have been death.