The odd couple of Downing Street will soon face a severe stress test | Andrew Rawsnley

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Mass unemployment and soaring debt will place acute pressure on the relationship between prime minister and chancellor

Boris Johnson told the most recent meeting of his cabinet that they had been “sailing into the teeth of a gale” before promising them “there will be brighter days and calmer seas ahead”. Which would make me very nervous about venturing out on a boat with this prime minister. He clearly does not check the weather forecast. What lies ahead is not calmer seas, but even more turbulent waters. The government is heading into a storm the like of which neither he nor anyone else on his inexperienced crew has ever endured.

There is a vast black cloud massing on the near horizon. It is the looming horror of mass unemployment. The virus-induced slump has already had a nasty effect on many Britons, but for quite a lot of voters the experience has not yet been as horrible as they may have first feared. The impact has been softened by improved welfare payments, job-retention schemes, business rescue packages and other emergency measures. This has delayed the reckoning. Though the public has taken an increasingly dim view of the government’s handling of the epidemic, Tory MPs have been able to clutch to the consolation that their party has maintained a lead over Labour on economic competence. They cannot be sure that will endure as support schemes unwind. One veteran Tory remarks of the cabinet: “This is a generation of politicians who have no experience of mass unemployment. If we go into Christmas with three million people unemployed, that will be beyond ghastly. The psychological shock will be enormous.”

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