Vladimir Putin has made “a dangerous calculation that democracies are divided, politically weak and economically insecure”.
For “what the authoritarian mind perceives as division we know as the passionate disagreements at the heart of our living, breathing democracy”.
These reflections were offered by Rishi Sunak at the start of his Spring Statement. Here was the Chancellor demonstrating that he is no mere bookkeeper, who can be trusted to look after the nation’s accounts, but a statesman capable of taking wider views, ready and willing to range over the great questions of war and peace and penetrate the authoritarian mind of the free world’s most bloodthirsty opponent.
As Sunak rose to speak, Boris Johnson, sitting beside him, was grinning like a schoolboy, having just breezed through Prime Minister’s Questions, looking more at ease than he had done for months, well able to dominate the House.
As the Chancellor began talking about the conflict in Ukraine, a harrowed look stole over the Prime Minister’s face, as it does when he contemplates the atrocious sufferings visited by Putin’s armies on that unhappy land.
But did one perceive also a twinge of pain that his colleague should with such facility adopt such a sovereign manner? That, surely, is the task of the leader.
Sunak is no longer the child prodigy. His hair has started to turn grey in the nation’s service, and he took the chance to remind us that if the Prime Minister should at some point be obliged to retire, he, Sunak, is the leader in waiting.
An unwelcome intimation of mortality for Johnson. The Chancellor did then have the decency to give us some figures, before declaring that he proposed to take “a principled approach to cutting taxes”.
A man of principle! Is that not just what the country needs? And here was a rise of £3,000 in the National Insurance threshold, which will benefit 30 million people.
In 2024 Sunak will also take a penny off the income tax, just in time for the general election, which he will then proceed to win.
“Cutting taxes is not easy,” he said with a sigh. It is, however, easier than putting them up.
Rachel Reeves, replying for Labour, called Sunak “Ted Heath with an Instagram account” – an enjoyable line, but one which shows that having been born in 1979, she is blissfully ignorant of how bad our economic troubles were in the 1970s.