Comment

The Tories’ response to a drought warning is to water the grass with champagne

As the Chancellor rattled through his plans, some saw his tax cuts for the wealthy as dangerously profligate

There’s been a coup! Boris’s wet Tories have disappeared – suddenly we are run by the Institute of Economic Affairs. 

The think tank trundled over the puddles in Great Peter Street and into the Commons, where Kwasi Kwarteng, one of their truest believers, delivered a rollickingly radical budget

Behind him sat Dehenna Davison, now a minister, keen to look keen and poised with a pen to capture every word (like one of those revolutionaries who follows Kim Jong-un around the rice paddy). Curiously, I’m not sure she wrote anything down. But then he did move jolly fast.

Forced to stick to a time limit, Kwasi rattled through the centre-Right’s best ideas as if ordering everything on the menu: taxes, cut; benefits, reformed; unions, defanged. “And can you bring me a side portion of uncapped bankers’ bonuses?”

Outside, it poured with rain. In the Commons, it trickled down. Though that’s not how we’re describing this economic strategy now because the think tankers say that was never the model in the first place. 

Language is in flux. They spoke of a mini-budget when Rishi Sunak was likely to write it (cruel). Today it is a Growth Plan. But, for some of us, it’ll always be a “fiscal event” – an evocative phrase that suggests something between a rave and a meteor strike.

I checked my phone. The pound was sinking so fast the experts were shouting: “You’re gonna need a bigger graph!”

The goal, said Kwasi, is to grow our way out of this mess, levelling up not by redistribution but “unleashing the power of the private sector”. He said: “Mr Speaker, we are at the beginning of a new era” – and Labour laughed. How many times have we heard that before?! 

They were right, but so was Kwasi. While Labour has no philosophy left, the Tories have become a party that encompasses almost every viewpoint imaginable, such that it was once run by book balancers (Cameron), then spendthrifts (May), and now growth-getters. 

With each iteration, it proclaims that this is real conservatism – even as it repudiates the “real conservatism” that it practised the day before yesterday. 

In a different climate, the Tories said the most important thing was to reduce the deficit. On Friday, their response to a drought warning is to water the grass with champagne.

“Which brings me to taxes,” said Kwasi. The 45p highest rate will go. John Redwood nearly cried with joy. 

But there were words of warning from former Sunak supporters, such as Mel Stride, to whom it sounded dangerously profligate, or some Labour MPs such as Angela Eagle, who argued that the evidence that lowering taxes for the wealthy generates growth is slim. 

But “high tax, high regulation socialism kills growth”, Kwasi shot back, implying that the consequence of 12 years of Tory government is that we live under communism – and some Westminster thinkers do believe that. 

Well, now it’s the chance for the IEA, the ASI, the CPS and a dozen other acronyms to test out ideas they’ve spent years promoting in booklets and speeches and over lunch at Boisdale.

When Kwasi sat down, the PM slapped his arm and Chris Philp patted his knee. It’s their time now.