OPINION - It’s Not A Lockdown (Just Don’t Leave The House)

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 (West End Final)
(West End Final)

When we’re through with Covid, fixed climate change and finally working 15-hour weeks like John Maynard Keynes promised, we need to do something about the Treasury.

The problem starts with its name. Too grand to call itself a finance ministry and too pompous to address its leader as finance minister, it is ‘Her Majesty’s Treasury’ led by the ‘Chancellor of the Exchequer’.

I should add that it is staffed by some of the smartest, most hard-working and well-meaning people you could hope to meet. But its present ministerial head, Rishi Sunak, does often give a face to the old Oscar Wilde quip about a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

At last night’s press conference – maybe I was hungry but I think it was the most depressing of the pandemic thus far – Professor Chris Whitty suggested it didn’t take a scientist to know that if people want to spend Christmas with their family, they’ll need to cut back on socialising beforehand. Boris Johnson nodded along.

(Shoutout to Conservative MP Joy Morrissey who likened Whitty’s advice to living in a public health socialist state, before deleting her tweet... and then doubling down.)

Then this morning, health minister Gillian Keegan advised the public to “make a sensible choice for yourself” if they should go out during the explosion in Omicron cases.

This is a lockdown by stealth. The main difference being that the hospitality sector can’t claim on their insurance, nor is the Treasury providing further support in terms of furlough or VAT relief.

Sunak, for his part, is in California, but it isn’t time difference that has prevented the Government from intervening. Throughout the pandemic, Sunak has routinely opposed more spending, lost the argument, and then proudly put his name on the policy.

Now, in fairness to the Treasury, it does see its job as protecting the public finances, because it suspects (not wholly without merit) that no one else in Government much cares about doing so.

There is also a debate to be had around what are the right levels of public spending more generally and how those should be funded. That is politics 101.

But to read reports of Sunak being concerned about the cost of the booster programme – the thing preventing us from another lockdown – is to get an insight into the man, and the department he leads.

As for now – letting businesses go to the wall, through no fault of their own, to advise people to stay away and not provide support is... deeply weird policymaking. But it is the politics of HM Treasury and that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer which have brought us here.

In the comment pages, clown, edgelord, showman: could Elon Musk be Time’s worst-ever Person of the Year, wonders Sarfraz Manzoor?

Meanwhile, Alan Mak, co-founder of the Blossom Awards and the first MP and minister of British-Chinese heritage, writes that Emma Raducanu shows the best of the British-Chinese community.

And finally, remember Slade vs Wizzard (1973) or Take That vs Mr Blobby (1993)? Jochan Embley brings you the seven greatest Christmas number one chart battles.

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