ENTERTAINMENT

DAN HODGES: Why Dishy Rishi turns into Ruthless Rishi, the Iron Chancellor


Dishy Rishi is about to go on vacation. "People have lost their perspective," an ally of the Chancellor tells me.

“We spent £ 350 billion protecting the economy, but now we've got to the point where it's not even registered.

"Someone said to him last week," Why aren't you doing anything for the theater? "We gave the theaters £ 1.6 billion. Things have to change."

As Covid threatens to plunge the UK into a double-dip lockdown, Sunak is only too aware that it cannot simply turn spending on.

However, in recent weeks he has become increasingly concerned that the country – and even some of his own colleagues – have come to believe that there is unlimited public funding for the coronavirus crisis.

With Covid threatening to double Britain's lockdown, Chancellor Rishi Sunak is only too aware that he cannot simply turn the spending off

"We cannot throw people to the wolves," explains a minister, "but everyone has to recognize that this type of expenditure cannot be continued in the medium term." It is economically unsustainable and politically unsustainable. & # 39;

As he prepares for a combined review of the fall budget and spending, Dishy Rishi is expected to be replaced by Ruthless Rishi.

The government will continue to provide assistance. But, as one ally put it, "We will return to a situation where every pound we spend has to be replaced elsewhere."

To reaffirm fiscal caution, Sunak had kept an eye on the “triple lock” on pensions introduced by David Cameron and George Osborne. But I understand Boris Johnson refused to lift such a totemic political commitment.

Instead, it will look for other significant – and politically explosive – savings. First, there will be a lot of pressure on public sector wages.

"It would simply not be right if 16 percent of the workforce were to see large wage increases just as everyone else in the economy had to tighten their belts," said one minister.

There will also be a welfare freeze. Ministers have been working on a worst-case scenario with four million unemployed as existing support for businesses and workers is gradually dissolving.

Some remain confident that a job apocalypse of this magnitude can be averted.

However, they believe there is no leeway – or public appetite – for appreciation of individual accomplishments, regardless of the ultimate toll Covid takes on employment.

And I've been told that Boris & # 39; cherished Operation Moonshot – or Operation Moonf *** – is being pushed back significantly as some of the more persistent Treasury officials have started branding them.

The Chancellor is to support investments in health measures with which Britain can work safely again.

But he refuses to spend huge amounts of public money on what might turn out to be nothing more than a bottomless petri dish until proven technology is available to support the program.

The Chancellor believes that an end to Covid-inspired complacency is needed. Dishy Rishi was sent home. It is now Ruthless Rishi who sits behind the Chancellor's desk

The Chancellor believes that an end to Covid-inspired complacency in finance is needed. Dishy Rishi was sent home. It is now Ruthless Rishi who sits behind the Chancellor's desk

For the past several months, Sunak's growing legion of fans on the Tory back seats has viewed him as something of a financial magician – a swirl of the cloak and the blossom of the wand, and their constituents' problems vanish in a cloud of smoke.

Although he is aware that his personal brand will inevitably suffer damage, friends are said to have decided it is time to present some tough economic truths to his colleagues.

"This Dishy Rishi stuff is a little out of control," admits an ally. “We are facing a serious crisis. And we would have to bring a reference to reality into all of this. & # 39;

This is partly in line with the Chancellor's personal ideology. When he was 15, he kept the accounts in his mother's pharmacy. "He's balanced the books since he was a teenager," says a friend.

He also spent the summer flipping through Nigel Lawson's memoirs.

"He's telling me he's a Lawsonian," one MP told me. "He's very keen on financial responsibility."

One example of this is Sunak's growing concern about the UK's debt ratio, which now exceeds 100 percent.

"Rishi is very, very concerned about how vulnerable this makes us to even small fluctuations in interest rates," said a minister. "He thinks we are in a very precarious position."

But there is also a political calculation behind the Chancellor's desire to dampen expectations that Britain can find its way out of the Covid crisis painlessly.

Sunak is among a growing number of Tory MPs concerned that there is not enough “blue water” between them and Keir Starmer's increasingly effective Labor opposition.

"There is not enough fiscal separation between us and Starmer," says a Sunak supporter. “We are conservatives. We need to draw a much clearer line between ourselves and Labor in terms of economy and spending. & # 39;

All of this is why Sunak launched a major magic offensive against Tory backbencher.

Sunak had been keeping an eye on the "triple lock" introduced by David Cameron and George Osborne on pensions. But Boris Johnson refused to lift such a totemic political commitment

Sunak had been keeping an eye on the "triple lock" introduced by David Cameron and George Osborne on pensions. But Boris Johnson refused to lift such a totemic political commitment

Last week, growing dissatisfaction with Boris' wavering leadership exploded into open revolt over the statement that No. 10 was preparing to break international law to get Brexit negotiations going.

"I don't mind dying in the ditch because of Brexit," one disgruntled MP told me, "but I expect No. 10 to at least dig my trench before the bullets fly."

Rishi Sunak will spend the next few weeks rolling up his sleeves and engaging with his colleagues.

He knows hard times are coming. That the oppressive burden on the British economy from Covid-19 can no longer be withstood by means of one-off loans and eye-catching restaurant discounts. And when economic gravity is finally confirmed again, there will be a political backlash.

Some of his opponents believe that he cannot hide.

"We don't think we'll fight Boris in the next election," one of Keir Starmer's employees told me a few weeks ago, "but I'm not sure we will face Rishi too." It's very popular now, but let's see how popular it is when the vacation schedule is taken away. & # 39;

But it's not popularity that the Chancellor is longing for right now. He believes an end to Covid-inspired complacency is needed.

Dishy Rishi was sent home. It is now Ruthless Rishi who sits behind the Chancellor's desk.