- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
A windfall tax is a rare, one-off charge made on outrageous good fortune which the beneficiary has done nothing to deserve. So it is not yet clear how much windfall tax Rishi Sunak will charge on his own windfall tax announcement, and specifically his incredible luck that, after months of obfuscation, it should be right there, ready to go, at the exact moment he and Boris Johnson are desperate to get people to talk about anything other than their own criminality.
A windfall tax is named after a kind wind that blows fruit from the trees, and in that regard, it is equally unclear at what exact point, in the last six months of every single opposition party, campaign group and activist calling for a windfall tax on energy companies, that Sunak, like Isaac Newton before him, finally saw the apple fall from the tree. His eureka moment. His brilliant idea to do exactly what everybody else had told him to do, and exactly what he said he wouldn’t.
It’s another U-turn, of course it is. But people won’t care very much about that. It’s also something of a revolutionary moment for the British government. Millions of families are going to get a £650 cheque in the post, simple as that, or more accurately, a one-off payment into their bank accounts, to help with their energy bills.
That is not normally the way we do things over here. Stimulus cheques are very much an American invention, so even if he’s no longer got his green card, maybe his heart’s still there, alongside a sizable chunk of his property portfolio.
The politics of it all are more than a little bit beside the point. What matters is that the Conservatives have, yet again, embarked on a fairly massive bit of wealth redistribution, taking directly from better off people and sticking it straight in the pockets of the less well off.
The Labour front bench bounced up and down with delight as he read it all out. “We lead, they follow,” Rachel Reeves said, having pointed out the many times, over the last many months, that the Conservatives had called this a “silly” idea, that it would “discourage investment”, and now they’d gone and done it.
But they’d more than gone and done it. Sunak’s plan is twice as generous as anything Labour had proposed, and in so doing, he plunged us further into yet more interesting times. Most of the Conservative Party, especially its increasingly large Thatcherite wing, hates this kind of thing. Rishi Sunak hates this kind of thing. But plenty of Conservative voters, namely the ones they borrowed from Labour in 2019, do not.
To keep up to speed with all the latest opinions and comment, sign up to our free weekly Voices Dispatches newsletter by clicking here
Naturally, as Reeves pointed out that all this had been her idea, there was Sunak to tell her that “the people can see the difference between a party playing politics and a government that’s trying to help”.
He’s right. They certainly can. But they can also see that for someone like Sunak to do something like this, the need is extremely desperate. They can also see, therefore, that it might have been wise to do it a few months ago, as opposed to holding it back for the moment they desperately needed it, as opposed to when the rest of us did.
But, in the grand scheme of things, that hardly matters. Sunak will certainly be forgiven (and anyone who’s written him off already is way off the mark). The trouble is, while he sees himself as an Ebeneezer Scrooge-style Tory, he is in fact best understood as the Ocean Club Marbella Veuve Clicquot Champagne Spray Chancellor. (If you don’t know what that is, just type it into Google images or watch Towie.)
There is absolutely no limit to the amount of public money Sunak can get his hands on when he absolutely has to. That skill might hold him in good stead in his rise to the top. The only downside is that he continues to have to be absolutely everything that he’s not.