Those hoping to see the ripping, radical, paradigm-busting Chancellor must have felt something missing. The poor fellow has been mutilated by events. The markets have dismembered him. The interesting parts of his plan have been excised. He was only partly there. He was Quasi Kwarteng.
Mark Harper (Rishi Sunak backer) asked him if he agreed with the IFS’s assessment that to balance the books he’d need £62 billion of cuts in four years. It’s what they call “fiscal tightening”. The Chancellor replied that he wasn’t going to “prejudge” what he was going to say at the end of the month. No decisions have been made. (What, none?) Questions of that sort more usually come from the other side. They must have made the Chancellor slightly nauseous.
So, Queasy Quasi went on to answer several similar questions from behind him. Kevin Hollinrake (Rishi backer) suggested expressionlessly that it would be better if his region didn’t suffer from cuts.
Mel Stride (Rishi) made an even more ominous intervention. The Chancellor should “reach out” to his backbenchers “to be absolutely certain he can get his measures through this House.” Mel Stride is not no one. He chairs the Treasury select committee. It’s impossible to believe this thinly-veiled threat didn’t shake the Chancellor a little.
Quivering Queasy Quasi – so disconcerted was he by the sullen mutiny of his friends – found himself praising the Office of Budget Responsibility. He even said, “Its independence is to me is sacrosanct.” This hanging jury of relentless lefties (see earlier Guido personnel analysis) is the very organisation that has been charged with the first word on his “medium-term fiscal plan”. He had very sensibly excluded them from his mini-budget. Now they will be sitting in judgement on him and providing all the attack lines the Today programme could wish for.
As to what his medium-term plans are, he was not forthcoming. “I’m not going to prejudge,” he said. He wasn’t going to say what the plan was because he didn’t know, and no decisions had been made. Was Queasy Quasi quibbling? I think we can say he quibbled. It wasn’t great quibbling but enough to see him through the awkward hour.
He was able to tell us that he was going to make sure that the vulnerable didn’t suffer and that iron fiscal discipline would be maintained. He promised that magic chewing gum from the Simpsons. “It both cleans AND straightens your teeth!”
The next Treasury Questions outing will be next month, directly after the medium-term plan has been presented by the quivering, queasy, quibbling quasi-Kwarteng. Make sure it’s in your diary.