The chancellor will merely tot up the cost of Johnson’s electioneering bungsby Paul Wallace / September 3, 2019 / Leave a comment
Over the past two decades the Treasury has been run by a heavyweight, able to square up to a prime minister in the second most important political job in the land. Think of Gordon Brown in the Blair years or of George Osborne in the Cameron years. In their more understated ways, Alistair Darling held his own with Brown when he became prime minister, as did Philip Hammond with Theresa May.
But it is Boris Johnson who is calling all the shots in his relationship with Sajid Javid. The chancellor suffered the indignity of having Sonia Khan, one of his special advisers, summarily dismissed last week by Dominic Cummings, the PM’s right-hand aide. And on Wednesday Javid will deliver a spending statement to the House of Commons whose content has essentially been dictated by the prime minister.
The timing of the announcement, which will set out how much departments responsible for public services will get to cover their day-to-day spending in the year between April 2020 and March 2021, was highly suspicious even before this week’s frenzy about a possible early election. There is no compelling reason why these expenditure limits have to be fixed now rather than after 31st October, when it will be clear whether Johnson has indeed visited upon Britain the fiscal as well as economic calamity of a no-deal Brexit. Obviously, the sooner that departments know what they will be getting, the better they can plan, for example in hiring permanent staff rather than using more expensive agency workers. But in 2015, when Osborne set out a four-year plan from April 2016, he did so in late November.
All the signs are that the statement on Wednesday, which will go ahead if necessary in writing given the likely disruption to the parliamentary timetable, has everything to do with electoral politics and nothing to do with sober public budgeting. Thanks to a stream of pre-announcements by the prime minister we already know much of what his chancellor will say. On Friday Johnson announced more money for schools in England at a cringe-making event, as the journalist-turned-prime minister who does his utmost to avoid press scrutiny took questions from children. In a rare interview, with the Sunday Times, he then announced more money for cash-starved local councils, including extra funding for social care.
In a further indication of Johnson’s electioneering…