HENRY DEEDES: Hunt is a skinflint and tighter than two coats of Dulux03/15/2023
Jeremy Hunt is such a skinflint, he’s tighter than two coats of Dulux: HENRY DEEDES watches the Chancellor in Budget action
Most chancellors on Budget days like to play conjurer, pulling rabbits out of hats or mouchoirs from ears – with a flourish and a loud ‘ta-dah!’
The most fiendish sleight-of-hand in their bulging box of tricks is to demonstrate how, having trousered most of our hard-earned moolah, a minuscule portion of that cash will now – hey presto! – magically reappear in our wallets via a series of complicated tax cuts.
Naturally, we fleeced taxpayers are then supposed to be enormously grateful.
Jeremy Hunt is no such chancellor. Partly because he lacks showmanship, but largely because he’s such a skinflint. Mr Padlock-Pockets. Tighter than two coats of Dulux.
‘Jeremy Hunt (pictured today) lacks showmanship, but largely because he’s such a skinflint. Mr Padlock-Pockets. Tighter than two coats of Dulux,’ Henry Deedes writes
It’s a reputation that has followed him through much of his career. While making his millions from publishing firm Hotcourses, the story goes that the staff bonus one year was a company mouse mat – the lucky beggars!
When he rose to the despatch box at 12.31pm today, the Chancellor at least sweetened the pill with a few chinks of good news. Debt was down, inflation was due to be halved by the end of the year. A recession now appeared unlikely.
Like every chancellor before him, he lectured us on how much luckier we were than the poor wretches living in such benighted places as the United States, Japan or Italy. ‘But,’ he added, ‘we must remain vigilant.’
Treasury translation: Don’t expect too many sweeties.
Caution, caution, caution. Hunt wanted Britain to have ‘the most pro-business, pro-enterprise tax regime’ in the world, yet he refused to halt the kamikaze corporation tax hike.
He wanted to kick-start our economy, but wasn’t letting us keep any more of our pay packet.
Apart from welcome pension tax reform and expansion of free childcare provision, the biggest cheer was for a freeze on draught beer prices in pubs which will save heavy elbow tilters… pennies.
But then perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised by this softly-softly approach. Hunt is a safety-first sort of chap. The kind of man who possibly takes his own food when he heads off on holiday and always waits the full hour for his lunch to digest before taking his afternoon dip in the hotel pool.
Conservative MPs listened intently while wearing expressions one would be hard pushed to describe as rapturous.
Jacob Rees-Mogg (NE Somerset) and John Redwood (Wokingham), in particular, were a picture of froggy-eyed glumness. Victorian guttersnipes queuing up at the workhouse for their lunchtime ladle of gruel.
On reflection, this may not necessarily have been a bad thing. They adored Kwasi Kwarteng’s Budget – and look what merry hell broke loose after that.
There were high hopes for Keir Starmer’s (pictured today) response, but instead he resorted to tried and tested soundbites, describing the Budget as a ‘sticking plaster’ for the economy when it required ‘major surgery’
No matter, Mr Hunt had brought along his own fan base. Up in the gallery sat his wife Lucia and their children, staring down proudly.
At one point, however, one of Hunt’s daughters was seen struggling to keep her eyelids open. She wasn’t the only one. The Chancellor was by now delighting us with his four pillars of industrial strategy – enterprise, education, employment and, er, everywhere.
‘The four E’s,’ Hunt enthused. A neighbouring hack groaned: ‘The four valium, more like.’
Figures were fired from Hunt’s mouth faster than a tennis ball machine. Some of the detail was pretty dense. We heard about things called ‘innovation clusters’ and a ‘quantum-enabled economy’ – whatever they are when they’re at home. He promised in deadpan tones to turn Britain into a series of low-tax zones. A low-fun zone, certainly.
There were at least the odd moments of levity, intentional or otherwise. A pledge to help out public swimming pools with their heating bills prompted yelps of hysteria from Labour MPs. Would it include the Prime Minister’s own newly installed pool at his North Yorkshire home, they squawked.
The SNP got all excited when Hunt declared ‘independence is better than dependence’ when announcing his benefits reforms. Mr Hunt shot the Scots Nats a thin smile, possibly out of charity. The poor wee mites have had precious little to cheer about of late.
Hunt got his biggest laugh when he teased Deputy Speaker Eleanor Laing – rather ungallantly, it must be said – about her age. A brave move considering the formidable mood she was in. At one point, Dame Eleanor gave Toby Perkins (Lab, Chesterfield) a rollicking which would have reduced a snarling doberman to a whimpering wreck.
As the hour mark passed, one or two fidgety Tories decided to make a dash for the exit. By the time Sir Keir Starmer rose, that trickle turned into a stampede.
There were high hopes for Starmer’s response. Considering the hash he’d made at PMQs earlier, most assumed he’d been saving his arrows for the Budget. Instead, he resorted to tried and tested soundbites, describing the Budget as a ‘sticking plaster’ for the economy when it required ‘major surgery’. The usual clip-on anger, in other words.
Secretly, though, he was probably delighted with Hunt’s prudent approach. With any luck the economy may be just about returning to normal come the election. After which Sir Keir and his socialist cohorts will get to go and crash it all over again.
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