Doctor Hunt is saving money in the intensive care unit

The patient was sick. Very sick. It is possible to die. Yes, he came to the hospital in September with only a sprained ankle. But now he was in the intensive care unit. Medicine is moving so fast these days. There is no time to explain what happened or where those rather confident doctors went.

What mattered was that Jeremy Hunt was now the boss. You could trust him because he was gray and as familiar as a spider’s web in a filing cabinet. Hunt would never dream of killing anyone, though if he listened too long he might die of boredom.

The mood in the House of Commons on Thursday was that of a hospital waiting room, where a doctor duly informs worried relatives. Hunt delivered his so-called autumn statement earnestly but fluently, promising to be “sympathetic”. Like a seasoned counselor, he never quite shook the impression that he was more interested in appearing smart than helpful, or that he was actually focused on who was coming to dinner tomorrow night.

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Obviously, the prognosis was not ideal. Britain was probably already in recession, with inflation forecast at 7.4 percent in 2023, and disposable incomes falling by 7 percent over two years. The country suffered a great deficit, did not build a nuclear power plant, insulated fewer apartments than the average conservative backbencher rents. The important thing was that none of this was Hunt’s fault.

Some readers may recall the chancellor’s leadership campaign four months ago, when he promised to cut the corporate tax rate to 15 percent, the lowest allowed by international conventions. But that was many lifetimes ago. Jeremy Hunt in November would never dream of such recklessness. Corporate tax rose to 25 percent as planned. The top rate of income tax would not be abolished, but more people would pay!

A good doctor would rather have further tax increases in anesthesia. By freezing income tax bands, he ensured that more people would pay more. They wouldn’t feel anything. The spending cuts and tax increases totaled £55 billion, enough to host a third of the World Cup in Qatar.

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That was the responsible thing. “As Conservatives, we will not leave our debts to the next generation,” Hunt said minutes before defending the pensions triple bottom line. “We’re going to face the storm,” he insisted, a major downgrade from Liz Truss’s pledge to “ride out the storm” in her first speech as prime minister.

Gone is Kwasi Kwarteng’s September ‘mini’ budget bomb, but it still had enough momentum to fill the British exceptional bingo card. The UK will exercise its ‘Brexit freedom’. It would be “the next Silicon Valley of the world”. The NHS would have “Scandinavian quality with Singaporean efficiency” – presumably with North Korean pay rises.

Was there any good specific news? Suffolk would have an elected mayor and, if British politics over the past few years are any guide, it would probably be the least qualified person for the role, namely Matt Hancock. The government would spend some money on energy efficiency, though in 2025. It is better to insulate than never.

Rachel Reeves Shadow Chancellor Answers Hunt's Autumn Declaration on Thursday at Commons
Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves compared Hunt’s return from the political wilderness to Bobby Ewing’s re-emergence in TV show ‘Dallas’ © Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament

The Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, saw and scored goals. Hunt’s return from the political game compared Bobby Ewing to the release of the TV show. Dallas. He hit out at Rishi Sunak’s wife’s former non-resident tax status and the Tories’ refusal to charge VAT on private school fees.

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All in all, he claimed that economic sickness was caused by Downing Street, not in Moscow. Hunt was offended. How did you blame “a mini -cost that was deleted in three weeks”?

The Tory backbenchers were surprisingly vociferous, especially when it came to pension increases. Maybe they found out that they hang out together or apart based on the polls. But at one point Boris Johnson was staring at the ceiling, no doubt wondering what had happened to the Caribbean sun. His party jumped into the stars and ended up in the gutter. Doctor Hunt’s intervention was the hope. He probably hurts more than us. Probably.