Britain’s leaders are operating in a world of “reduced expectations”, says Robert Shrimsley in the FT. Any government that manages not to “provoke a currency crisis, break its own laws or intentionally alienate its allies” is today a “cause for celebration”. And by this very low standard, Rishi Sunak is off to a good start – he has stabilised the economy, resolved the “festering row” over Northern Ireland, and patched things up with France. Likewise, Wednesday’s “disciplined” Budget had “the hallmarks of a government that knows what it is trying to do”. Substantially increasing state subsidies for childcare costs is not just a smart plan to get people back to work, it’s also “shrewd politics” – it robs Labour of one of its best policies for the next election, and extends a hand to the young families the Tories have been losing for years.
Yet ordinary folk – who don’t watch budget announcements – are enduring deteriorating public services and rising inflation. This week alone there have been strikes by “doctors, teachers, rail workers, civil servants and university lecturers”. Real household incomes are expected to drop by 5.7% over the next two years. Against this backdrop, the government has to build “the only case it can” – that the UK’s problems are down to “global shocks”, and that after an “ill-judged comic interlude”, the grown-ups are back in charge. There’s obviously no guarantee this “oh look, we’ve found our marbles” strategy will work. But “stable, sensible Sunak” is the only product the Tories have left to sell. On that basis, the Budget “must count as a success”.