Having last been seen in public roughly four prime ministers and 25 economic crises ago, nominal chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt has decided it’s about time the world be reminded of his existence. And what better way to do it than to head down to the work canteen to make a video of how unimaginably banjaxed absolutely everything is, by building a big tower of single-use coffee cups – the things that not all that long ago his government was trying to ban.
Arguably the third biggest viral breakout sensation of the Johnson years (after Covid and that fridge he hid in) was the staffer who leaned over as he walked through the Tory party conference and yanked a coffee cup from his hand, announcing, “no single-use cups please”.
How times change. Now it’s completely fine for the chancellor to take a morning off from his busy life to crayon over a great big pile of them for the purposes of a fun little video about how inflation works which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
You would think, would you not, that the chancellor of the Exchequer might have noticed that the world is not short of explainers on what exactly inflation is, given the massive inflation crisis that’s been dominating the news for almost a full year, and that it is not really his job to provide another one – not least as it is, by some margin, the worst one yet (more on that shortly) – but to, you know, actually do something about it.
We learn right at the outset that in the last year the price of a cup of coffee has gone up from £2.50 to £3, a statement that – shorn as it was of absolutely all explanatory context – means absolutely nothing. The “price of a cup of coffee” means about as much as the price of a car or a pair of jeans. As these words exit my fingers, I am sipping on a cup of coffee that cost about 8p. Tomorrow morning I’ll drink one that will cost a quid. And the price of a cup of coffee where Jeremy Hunt is making his video, which looks very much like the subsidised canteen of HM Treasury, has definitely never been £2.50 and definitely isn’t £3 now.
And what are the causes of this radical price increase? Well, just to make it easy to understand, an actual member of Treasury staff (or possibly even Hunt himself) has handily drawn some fun little cartoons of all the world’s major crises on the side of ever-decreasing coffee cups, so that their boss can stack them up on top of each other. First in went the macchiato (Covid), then cortado (Putin’s war in Ukraine), and then – the little shot of frothy milk – energy prices.
And here’s the reason, really, why you should maybe get your economic explainers from journalists rather than government ministers.
I’ve watched the video eight times now and so I am absolutely sure that at no point does Hunt reach for the 42oz 1400 calorie triple caramel macchiato with extra whipped cream marked “LIZ TRUSS AND HER COMPLETELY UNHINGED BUDGET”.
That, for some reason, doesn’t make it into HM Treasury’s Styrofoam Tower of Doom. Nor does he gather them all up at the end and chuck them into a great big 30l coffee urn marked “Brexit”.
Nor, sadly, could Hunt find a cup big enough on which to write ‘‘LEAVING THE SINGLE MARKET AND CUSTOMS UNION WHICH ABSOLUTELY NO ONE VOTED FOR’’. That’s not altogether his fault. A cup that large may not exist.
At this point, things get ever more absurd. The main point of the film, we now learn, is for Hunt to tell us all what the government is actually doing to get inflation down. And so, at this point, the viewer finds him or herself expecting the chancellor to return to his big latte Duplo project and start lifting the troublesome items out again. Putin’s war – chuck that one out. Covid – dealt with, don’t worry.
Instead, we learn that the chancellor is going to bring your imagined cup of coffee back from three quid to £2.50 through “investing a lot of money in nuclear and renewable energy, so that our prices are not at the whim of the international gas markets”.
Except that, actually, they absolutely totally and utterly are – because a) it takes well over a decade for any investment in nuclear to get you anywhere at all; and b) even now, this very second, the price the national grid pays for renewable electricity is still dictated by the international wholesale gas price, because that’s just the way the market works and neither Jeremy Hunt nor his boss have done anything about it.
Most of the things the government is doing to halve inflation are, he would accidentally, make clear, being done by somebody else. The Bank of England has been independent for 25 years. The only aspect of the Bank of England that is not independent is its inflation target – which is 2 per cent and set by the government. So it is raising interest rates, buying gilts and doing absolutely everything it possibly can to meet that target. And should it miss and land on, say, 5 per cent – as it has already forecast it will do – then they will at least have hit Sunak and Hunt’s target of halving inflation, so they can then sweep in and take the credit for it.
It’s January. We’re all trying to cut back, in every conceivable way. So if you really want to understand what Jeremy Hunt is doing, all you’ve got to do is raise your right hand, form an imaginary cup, stick your pinkie out, raise it to your lips and take a nice long sip on absolutely nothing. It’s free and it’s good for you – though maybe not for your blood pressure.