The Tories are torching their reputation in order to help the richest in society. Not a great look

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Well holy Christ alive, that was a thing right there. Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng are absolutely off their tits on the really hard stuff. It was the political equivalent of watching someone strip naked, dowse themselves in petrol and tell you they’re about to ascend to heaven.

Crazed, evidence-free, constructed in the absence of scrutiny and unmoored from any kind of coherent intellectual framework. Yes, we just witnessed one of the most unhinged economic interventions of our lifetime.

The basics. The Chancellor announced unprecedented tax cuts, heavily in favour of the well-off. These include the abolition of the 45p top rate of income tax and slashed stamp duty. It’ll cost £161bn over five years.

That’s in addition to the £60bn over the next six months holding down energy bills. This will probably balloon – the Government will likely extend it for another six months, then the next election will be swinging into view and it will become politically impossible to get rid of it.

Do not show me the maths

This will all be funded by massive higher borrowing. The Treasury document says they will borrow an additional £72.4bn relative to April. This borrowing is likely to be more expensive, because the markets are losing faith in the Government on the basis of the plan itself. Yields on 10-year UK gilts rose aggressively this morning. This shows people wanting a higher return for lending to Britain, because of the risks involved.

That reaction is partly to do with the decision itself, but it is also influenced by the manner in which it has been reached. Kwarteng has delivered this Budget – and it is a Budget, a big one, no matter what he calls it – while making sure it receives no internal or external scrutiny. He sacked the permanent secretary at the Treasury. He froze the Office for Budget Responsibility out of the process altogether. His core mantra is: Do not show me the maths. Do not challenge what I am doing. Do not ask questions.

Those structures are not just there to improve the Chancellor’s ideas and warn him off from others. They provide reassurance to the markets, a kind of insurance policy that Kwarteng is not marking his own homework. By pressing ahead while freezing out the civil service and independent assessments, he is in fact undermining his own agenda.

Not Thatcherism

People are calling it ideological, but it isn’t. Not really. It’s sub-ideological, because it does not seem to have even grasped the intellectual tradition which it claims to emulate.

It’s not Thatcherism. Thatcher cut spending so she could cut taxes. Truss and Kwarteng are ramping up spending while raising taxes and then throwing the consequences onto borrowing, just as interest rates are going up. It’s not even Reaganism. Reagan spent a lot, chiefly on defence, while cutting taxes, but he did so with a strong currency to protect him.

It’s not neoliberalism, or laissez-faire, or classic economics. That would indicate a concern for balanced budgets. It’s not Hayekianism. That would indicate a concern with controlling inflation over preventing recession. This does the opposite, launching a massive fiscal stimulus and then relying on the Bank of England to raise interest rates to deal with it, which will itself cause traumatic pain to mortgage-holders, with potentially catastrophic individual and economy-wide consequences.

There’s no system in place here. This is a form of linguistic myopia masquerading as economics. The phrase “tax cut” has taken on godlike proportions, overwhelming all other considerations, existing as a biblical commandment irrespective of circumstances or consequences.

Political absolutism

Kwarteng says he wants to simplify the tax system. That’s also nonsense. He reduced stamp duty but did nothing to reform council tax – the most deranged and iniquitous of all property taxes. He abolished the top rate but did nothing about the bizarre wave-like contortions around the £100,000 to £120,000 mark where marginal rates warble all over the place as a result of reforms to personal allowance. He even abolished the Office for Tax Simplification.

Actual tax simplification requires political courage, serious planning and a heavily tested policy programme. None of that is on display here. Just the impetuous rampaging momentum of simple-minded unchecked political absolutism.

More from Opinion

You can see what’s happened here. They’re going for broke. The people around Truss – like Matthew Sinclair, chief economic adviser and former boss at the right-wing TaxPayers’ Alliance – know they’re in trouble. They have the economy of the 70s, the public services of the mid-90s and the charisma of a black hole. They’re quite comprehensively fucked. So they are rolling the dice.

In effect, this puts their fate in Putin’s hands. He, more than anyone, can dictate energy prices. If they are very lucky, the fluctuations in energy price might reflect the impact of European attempts at storing gas for the winter ahead. If the price fell, they might conceivably survive all this.

The rest of us are in serious trouble

But that is not the likely outcome. The far more realistic forecast is that they just wrote their own suicide note – the longest since Michael Foot signed off on the 1983 Labour manifesto. The Tories are torching their own reputation for economic confidence in order to help the very richest in society, right in the middle of a cost of living crisis.

You could hear the relief in Labour’s voice, as MP after MP rose to attack the plans. Kwarteng might as well have written their election literature for them. But honestly it was more than that. Finally, the Tories had gone back to the caricature Labour had always had of them. All the internally divisive issues of the past few years had disappeared: Brexit, culture wars, levelling up. All gone. Instead, they had an agenda which could unite the opposition party – its right and left, its middle and working class supporters, its voters in Northern towns and metropolitan cities.

They were the big winners today, along with millionaires and wealthy American tourists. The rest of us are in serious trouble. They didn’t just cover themselves in petrol. They covered us in it too.

What to Watch This Weekend: Thirteen Lives

Magnificently unfussy Ron Howard film on Prime, about the rescue of the Thai boys from the Tham Luang cave in 2018. A lesser director would have focused on the human interest angle – spending long parts of the runtime dwelling on the kids’ relationships with their parents and all that stuff. That would have been very tedious. They’re kids. We don’t want them to die. We do not need to get to know them to reach that emotional state.

Instead, Howard is primarily interested in the logistics of the rescue, which is unbelievably fascinating. The thing that really stayed with me was the character of one of the British rescue divers – Richard Stanton, played by Viggo Mortensen – who was magnificently unsentimental about the children. One of the really rather radical ideas swirling around the film is that you need a man like him, who is prepared to treat the children as “packages”, in order to save them. A hymn to emotional distance in practical matters of human importance.

What to Listen to This Weekend: Adam Buxton Podcast, interview with Belle and Sebastian

The podcast needs no introduction. Buxton is a master of the form – by turns offish, funny, morose, sarcastic, sensitive, vulnerable and curious. But this interview with Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian was particularly lovely. If you’re a fan, you probably idolise them. Buxton talks about the moments of his life he associates their music with. I’ve the same, from school days through university.

Presumably Murdoch is told this all the time. And yet he is exquisitely self-effacing, modest, practical and level-headed. There’s none of the self-worship or egomania you get with pop stars. And in that, you get a twinkling of how this band stayed together for over a quarter of a century. Plus the new songs sound great.

What to Read This Weekend: Decorum by Jonathan Hickman and Mike Huddleston

Brain-melting graphic novel goodness here, concerning an extremely polite assassin in the far-future taking on an urchin trainee ahead of a hit-job for a machine god. Hickman is known for his elaborately constructed sci-fi worlds and less so for his humour, which is exquisitely bone-dry. Both are in fine form here.

But the stand-out element is the art by Huddleston. It’s some of the most exciting comics art I’ve seen in years – stitching together lovingly painted vistas with frenzied basic pencil sketch work, infusing elements from east and west, all delivered with astonishing confidence and brio. It’s the kind of work that makes you put an -ism suffix to someone’s name. Huddlestonism is a truly beautiful thing.

This is Ian Dunt’s Week, a subscriber-only newsletter from i. If you’d like to get this direct to your inbox, every single week, you can sign up here.

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