A Treasury source has claimed that tax rises across the board are needed to plug the “£50 billion fiscal hole left by Liz Truss’s disastrous tenure”, reports Madeline Grant in the Telegraph. Hmm, so the country’s fiscal problems were all created in Truss’s brief few weeks in charge? The source continued: “After borrowing hundreds of billions of pounds through COVID-19, spending cuts alone won’t be enough.” That sounds more like it. Grant writes:
The prospect of tax hikes alarms most of us and terrifies the poorest households. But it’s scarcely surprising. If anything, I’m more surprised by the surprise. It’s reminiscent of that episode of Fawlty Towers when Basil argues with an unruly guest who’s been complaining about the view from her room. “May I ask you what you were expecting to see out of a Torquay hotel bedroom window?” he snaps. “Sydney Opera House perhaps, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon?” May I ask what people expected to see after shuttering the entire economy for the thick end of two years, printing money to pay millions of people to stay at home?
During lockdown, the electorate was led to believe that we could borrow endlessly without consequence; that money-printing was nothing to worry about and someone else would foot the bill if necessary. The whole period didn’t just cross a Rubicon in what the state believed it could get away with, it irrevocably transformed how people viewed the state. There remains an odd amnesia about the whole period; a reluctance to deal with the lockdown hangover. It’s as if nobody wants to hear that their lengthy furlough now has to be paid for, or that you can’t repeatedly switch a sophisticated 21st-century society on and off like a computer without disastrous, unpredictable consequences.
And the fantasyland it seems continues, as a new poll finds large parts of the public clamouring for new restrictions this winter. As many as 42% back the return of social distancing, while 20% want to reimpose the Rule of Six immediately and over 60% want mask mandates back on public transport.
In fact, if the polls are to be believed, many of us would do it all over again. A YouGov survey this week shows the same lingering authoritarianism; and perhaps, some of that same naivety about trade-offs. When asked about the potential return of Covid measures, 42% of respondents supported the return of social distancing, while one in five wanted to reimpose the Rule of Six immediately. Over 60% wanted mask-mandates on public transport. Taking the tube to work, I see no more than one or two masked faces per week – so why don’t more of the public just wear them if it means that much to them? Perhaps it’s because the real attraction isn’t so much about reducing transmission, but controlling other people’s lives.
I can’t help noticing that many of those now railing against spending cuts are precisely the same people who shouted down anyone who warned of the economic consequences of lockdown or questioned the severity of the measures at the time. Similarly, many MPs and pundits, having vociferously opposed “irresponsible” uncosted tax cuts, now condemn planned spending cuts with equal vigour. There’s absolutely “no fat” left to trim in the public sector, they lament. Many are already pivoting from denouncing Trussonomics to reframing government spending, à la Gordon Brown, as necessary “investment” that will somehow boost growth – even if it is simply being poured into dysfunctional public services.
I know it’s a YouGov poll, so pinch of salt time, but even so the results are astounding: 75% want the return of mandatory isolation for the sick and 65% of mandatory testing for the symptomatic; 49% want masks enforced in all indoor spaces versus just 43% against. The vaccine programme remains popular as well, with 71% saying they’d be likely to take a booster if offered one this winter, including 63% of 25-49 year-olds (who aren’t being offered one). However, perhaps an indication of how skewed the poll is is that while 89% of over-65s say they are likely to get an autumn booster, the actual booster rate in the age group is flattening out at around 70%. That’s a big difference.
Worth reading in full.