Budget 2021: The BIG state we are in

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak holds the budget box as he poses with Chief Secretary to the

Chancellor Rishi Sunak and his team before he delivered the Budget - but can East Anglia et behind it? - Credit: PA

Rishi Sunak is a Star Wars geek.

And it certainly was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away when the fresh-faced new MP took the decision to back the UK's departure from the European Union. 

Few people cared back then because few people knew who Mr Sunak was, and even fewer expected he would be the chancellor in a few short years.

One of the reasons the Yorkshire MP gave for backing Brexit was his belief that little, old Blighty didn't need the big state intervention of Brussels. This was an MP who came to public service from the business world and clearly backed a laissez-faire approach to fiscal policy. 

"May the market forces be with you." 

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And yet now he is overseeing the biggest state intervention of any peacetime chancellor ever. If he had been privy to the size of the cheques he'd be signing when he took up residency in Number 11 back then he would have assumed he had turned to the dark side. 

But coronavirus has changed everything. And nothing will ever be quite the same again. 

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Never before - wars aside - has a government been forced to spend so much, so quickly. 

The figures are beyond staggering: £407billion spent,  £355billion borrowed.

Boris Johnson came to power on a levelling-up agenda. He wanted to loosen the purse strings and invest in major infrastructure projects. He certainly did not expect the public coffers to be paying wages and propping up entire sectors. 

But this debt must be treated like a war debt. This spending was not frivolous. This spending was vital. 

And the chancellor quite rightly believes it has to continue. 

Now is not the time to turn the taps off. If the spending had stopped suddenly business after business here in the East of England would have gone to the wall. Many, sadly, still will. 

But this unexpected, big state intervention has given many a fighting chance. 

The chancellor stood up at 12.35pm the hopes of many resting on his speech. 

But instead of the raucous cat calls, cheers and jeers of any normal Budget announcement Mr Sunak's big, fat and wide open wallet received only muted mumbles of approval from his own benches and a stone cold nothing from those opposite.

For Sir Keir Starmer and the Labour Party it is close to impossible to oppose a big spending Budget aimed at dragging the stricken economy through these dark times.

Of course in the coming days as the detail is picked over - the devil is always in the detail on Budget day - some misstep will become apparent. Some group that has fallen through the cracks will emerge. 

But on the whole this will be a Budget that the public and business can get behind. 

There is yet more support in the shape of furlough, an extension to the increased Universal Credit payments and reopening grants for businesses that have been unable to trade.

Mr Sunak is set up for a serious run at moving next door. And Budgets like this, as much as he wouldn't have wanted to deliver them, play directly into his ambitious hands. 

His competition for the top job have all been wounded by the government's patchy response to the pandemic. And yet as the man with the cash to flash Mr Sunak continues to cut a dashing political figure.

And he will always be able to remind people of the lengths his Treasury went to during the battle to beat Covid.

But it was not all spend, spend, spend. 

Towards the end of his announcement Mr Sunak sat the nation down, poured us all a soothing warm drink and said with a solemn face: "We need to talk about our spending." 

In order to dodge sole responsibility for servicing the mega debt he has accrued the chancellor made it very clear that he expected the Covid burden not just to fall on this government but those in the future.

But freezing personal tax thresholds and raising corporation tax for 10pc of businesses is a start.

Mr Sunak is no Jedi. Sadly. But so far he has done what was required.

Now, hopefully, as the region rubs its eyes and emerges blinking from the gloom of lockdown this Budget will go some way to starting the fightback.    


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