Rishi Sunak is preparing an autumn of spending cuts – an economic folly and a political gamble
This is the week that Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak began softening up doctors, teachers and other public sector workers for a squeeze to their pay and cuts to their departmental budgets. They have done their best to muffle that particular bit of bad news. Instead, aides to the publicity-conscious Mr Sunak briefed journalists on an inflation-busting pay rise for public servants – and on Tuesday got the desired morning headlines. Later that same day, the chancellor admitted it was a one-off for this financial year, and that over the longer run “we must exercise restraint in future public sector pay awards”. Meaning cuts are coming. It had been a crass and short-lived publicity trick: flash the cash in a big show now, then admit it would all be taken back in time. Not only that but, as the Trades Union Congress pointed out, in all the government’s trumpeting of its apparent largesse, little acknowledgement was given that there would be no such increment for jobcentre advisers, local government employees or care workers.
Spin is a hardly a novelty on Downing Street, but the prime minister has developed a new, yet increasingly tiresome, strategy: blurt a falsehood, confess the truth, then hope the furore around the initial fib fixes it all the more firmly in voters’ minds. So Mr Johnson postures as the new Roosevelt, then announces a small spending commitment – but evidently hopes busy and only half-attentive voters will be left with the magic words “new deal”.