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I hoped Jeremy Hunt would make a decent chancellor – now he's just playing silly buggers

The mini-Budget fiasco Truss inflicted on this country in September 2022, along with her chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, almost destroyed us. Markets slid into turmoil, interest rates soared, the pound plunged and pension funds teetered on the brink of collapse.

Truss managed all of that in just 44 days. It was a national humiliation. She did leave one positive legacy, though.

Her calamitous stint in power was bound to make her successor look halfway decent by comparison. Enter Jeremy Hunt.

Like millions of other Britons, I was relieved to see Hunt take a firm grip on the nation’s finances after his appointment on October 14, 2022 (even if he did look a little too pleased with himself).

Finally, the grown-ups were back in power.

Jeremy Hunt leapt at the challenge of making the bond markets believe in the UK again, by scrapping almost all of the Truss-Kwarteng nonsense.

Gilt yields plunged, mortgage rates retreated and the nation’s debts were put on a slightly more sustainable trajectory.

Yes, taxes rose, but that’s what happens when the country manages its own affairs so badly that the bond markets are forced to step in and take charge.

Since that promising early start, Hunt has stopped acting like a grown-up. Now he’s just playing silly buggers.

The decision to freeze income tax and national insurance (NI) thresholds to 2028 looked like harsh medicine at the time, and so it has proved.

It will drag almost four million into paying income tax when they didn’t before, and push a further three million into the higher rate 40 percent bracket.

He’s been desperately back tracking by cutting 2p off NI last November’s autumn statement and again in Wednesday’s budget. But he can’t distract voters from the fact that they’re still paying more tax than at any time since the war.

During his budget speech, he made repeated jibes about Labour hiking takes. Talk about pots and kettles.

Labour hasn’t been in power for 14 years. Today’s record high tax rates are entirely the Tory party’s doing.

It’s too late for Hunt to turn perceptions around. People have seen their pay packets and they know what’s happening. 

They also know that he’s only cutting taxes because there’s an election around the corner and it’s thrown him into a panic.

Former Labour chancellor Gordon Brown was blamed for failing to fix the roof when the sun was shining, leaving us exposed when the financial crisis struck.

Yet we’ve had seven Tory chancellors since 2010 and they haven’t fixed the roof either. All they’ve done is tinker around the edges, while the rain keeps pouring down.

READ MORE: ‘Zero effect Budget!’ Hunt fails to boost Tories as pensioners abandon the party

The UK is plagued by high inflation, high energy prices and high taxes, as well as low productivity and low growth. So what is our long-term economic growth strategy? We don’t have one. And Hunt didn’t come up with one this week either. We just got more tinkering, more jokes.

All Hunt’s two NI cuts have done is return some of the money that he and Rishi Sunak lifted from our pockets in the first place.

They haven’t returned any to pensioners as they don’t pay NI.

The elderly have been a reliable source of votes for the Conservatives for years but their support is hanging in the balance.

If Hunt is lucky, they’ll remember him for passing on the last two bumper state pension triple lock hikes in full. I suspect his luck has run out.

We don’t yet know when the general election will be. Some claim Sunak will go to the polls in May. Others reckon January 2025, giving Hunt time to deliver a last-gasp income tax cut.

By then the economy could be doing a little better. Inflation will be on the run, interest rates should be lower.

But unless Hunt can somehow convince voters that the Tories are still the low-tax party, next year’s Budget will be delivered by Labour’s Rachel Reeves. Let’s hope she doesn’t end up playing silly buggers too.


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