The markets may be relatively calm but Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Budget has fired up a media storm – Carnage, From Bad To Worse, Tories Soak the Strivers, Years of Pain, the Lost Decade are some of today’s headlines.
On the Today Programme this morning however, there in the vanguard of liberal opinion, Jeremy Hunt got a relatively easy ride from Mishal Husain.
The interviewer’s despondent framing of the situation began:
Another 500,000 people will be unemployed according to the official budget forecaster. At a time when anger over restraint in public sector pay is already feeding through into strikes, people are about to feel poorer and the country as a whole will feel poorer as the economy shrinks over the next year. Is the Chancellor’s plan – which he says will make the recession shallower – the answer?
And then, a characteristic kicker:
Do you accept that what you have done amounts to a raid on millions of working people?
Hunt, in his reasonable Radio 4 way, eased past that with his bit on inflation and the recovery after the recession ends and so Mishal Husain turned to “the vast swathe of middle-income Britain that will feel more squeezed now.”
The first specific, the point of entry for the BBC assault turned out to be non-doms. And more particularly, whether the Chancellor had asked for details on what a non-dom tax would raise. Hunt quavered for a moment (there may be something in there) but recovered when she asked, “Did they give you a figure for what those taxes would raise?”
“No,” he said. He would brazen it. And why wouldn’t he? Non-doms are very far from a significant budget item. Even Labour puts their contribution at a nugatory £3 billion. He was able to say, “Sound money means more than low taxes.”
Therein lies his Conservative underpinning, for better or worse. And indeed for richer or poorer.
Mishal Husain found only one other real sore point – that the OBR’s forecast for the length of the recession relied on 200,000 immigrants a year. Did that mean plans to reduce immigration have been shelved? Hunt replied that it was a fair drop from the current 250,000. But still, a long way from Cameron’s “tens of thousands”? And what about the Home Secretary, was she on board with this?
The attack was fizzling out. Even the postponement of the social care cap as “surely a source of shame” lacked the bite, the venom, the tone of incredulous contempt that Today interviewers use so effectively.
Outside of Rory Stewart, Hunt will be the BBC’s favourite Tory and there can’t be anyone better in the Conservative party to present a Budget of Pain to the BBC.
That’s one small step for the Conservative party, but every little helps. Whether “sound money” will help at election time is another matter entirely.