HENRY DEEDES watches as the Chancellor loses his bonhomie


Doe-eyed Rishi Sunak axed the fluffy bunny act: HENRY DEEDES watches as the Chancellor loses his bonhomie

Usually when Rishi Sunak announces he’s adding another couple of noughts to the country’s spiralling debt, he puts on his fluffy bunny act.

You know the one. That caring routine he does when he’s as soothing as a nurse treating a toddler’s grazed knee. Voice soft as marshmallow. Eyes so meek and doe-like they look as though they’ve been smeared in Vaseline.

But yesterday, Rishi arrived in the Commons in a far flintier mood. No smiles, none of his usual cheery hellos. The neverending drain on his resources has zapped him of all bonhomie.

Rishi Sunak arrived in the Commons in a far flintier mood. No smiles, none of his usual cheery hellos

His statement on the economy may as well have been accompanied by the foreboding tones of a haunting requiem. Twice we were informed things were likely to get worse before they get better. ‘The road ahead will be tough,’ he announced sternly. And a happy Monday to you too, Chancellor.

The furlough scheme, he confirmed, will continue until April at a further cost of £4 billion. There was a time when such figures might have prompted noisy gasps or collective wind sucking around the House. A Covid-compliant chamber has robbed us of that. Or perhaps members have simply grown used to these eye-wateringly vast sums. I know I have.

Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds beamed in remotely through a dodgy internet connection, panicky and distressed as ever. She accused Sunak of being out of ideas. A harsh critic might say she’s not had any at all during this crisis.

Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds beamed in remotely through a dodgy internet connection, panicky and distressed as ever. She accused Sunak of being out of ideas. A harsh critic might say she’s not had any at all during this crisis

Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds beamed in remotely through a dodgy internet connection, panicky and distressed as ever. She accused Sunak of being out of ideas. A harsh critic might say she’s not had any at all during this crisis

Rishi coolly put it to her that she agreed with his economic strategy far more than she’d care to admit. Miss Dodds looked so riled by this suggestion her corkscrew curls almost stood on end.

Labour made much of Rishi’s absence in recent weeks. This was his first appearance at the despatch box in 41 days. When Gordon Brown was Chancellor he was always accused of disappearing at the first sign of trouble as a way of embarrassing Tony Blair. Rishi at least had the excuse he’d been busy working out how to pay for this mess. The Government benches were noticeably less gushing than usual. Several months ago, Conservative backbenchers were dousing the boy wonder in treacle. Yesterday, they lined up, flat caps in hand, simply to demand greater assistance. More money, more relief. More, more, more.

Tom Hunt (Con, Ipswich) pleaded on behalf of the hospitality industry. Siobhan Baillie (Con, Stroud) lobbied for our ‘four billion quid’ film and television industry. Yes, yes, Rishi implored, I’m doing the best I can. A rustling of papers and creaking of shoe leather greeted the arrival of that stately monument Sir Graham Brady (Con, Altrincham). Sir Graham, as I have noted, has developed a habit of addressing the Prime Minister and the Chancellor much the way a hotel manager might admonish an insolent bellhop.

He requested greater support for our decimated aviation industry. Perhaps a cut in passenger duty? Hmm, I’ll bear it in mind was Rishi’s response. Translation: I’m looking to add income rather than subtract it.

For the SNP, the £375 million Scotland has been promised was not nearly enough. They were like teenagers imploring for more pocket money from the bank of mum and dad.

Ian Paisley Jr (N Antrim) (pictured in 2018) claimed Northern Ireland branches of Marks & Spencer were having trouble getting hold of supplies

Ian Paisley Jr (N Antrim) (pictured in 2018) claimed Northern Ireland branches of Marks & Spencer were having trouble getting hold of supplies

The DUP lot wailed about supply shortages due to Brexit. Ian Paisley Jr (N Antrim) claimed Northern Ireland branches of Marks & Spencer were having trouble getting hold of supplies. A shortage of Percy Pigs? Uh oh. From such trivial concerns do angry middle-class riots grow.

Only a couple of members pointed out the Treasury’s profligacy could not continue for ever. Liam Fox (Con, N Somerset) urged the Chancellor to resist calls to increase public spending at the next budget. Swotty-looking Simon Fell (Con, Barrow & Furness) called for a return to ‘resilient public finances’ when the crisis was over.

Rishi plainly agreed. ‘Excellent point!’ he yelped – it was the only enthusiasm he’d managed to muster all session. I fear it may be some time before we see that smile of his again.

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