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The wing and budget of prayer exposes Brand Rishi and the myth of Merrie England | John Crace

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Nso much a budget speech, more a hostage video. This was not the hour of glory that Brand Rishi had imagined for himself when he began writing his third budget. Yes, he did teeth whitening moves for the many photography opportunities. Yes, he was wearing white and slippery socks. Hed even had a few days with people talking everything about him, as he revealed most of the content of his budget in a series of coordinated email posts.

But he still could not deceive himself. His heart just wasn’t in it. Because when he came in to tell Boris Johnson what he had in mind, the prime minister had just torn 90% of it. It just will not do at all. You spent almost nothing, said Boris Bertie Booster, before giving him a whole new speech. Here is what you will say instead.

Brand Rishi had tried to argue, saying that just because they had spent a fortune on Covid recovery programs, it did not mean that the country could continue to maximize its credit cards, even when the amounts involved were significantly smaller.

But Bertie Booster had just told him she could do one. If the chancellor did not like the budget submitted, he would find someone else to give it to. For a nano-second, Sunak had thought to stick to his principles and walk away, but then remembered that having principles was far beyond the brand. So he sucks it. However, this does not mean that he should have enjoyed it.

Before he began his speech in the Commons, there had been a commotion on the government fronts as cabinet ministers slapped up and down, trying to figure out if Boris was wearing a mask.

He was, now he had finished the questions of the prime ministers.

Liz Truss, who had not taken the trouble to wear a face mask during the PMQs, decided not to wear one. Then, after a five-minute block by the vice president for the 95% budget flow, Sunak came to the fore.

We are in a new era of optimism, he had begun. That was certainly true. His entire budget was based on one arm and one prayer. Borrowing was a little less, but still very high compared to what was considered normal. Inflation could easily drag over 4%, in which case most of the country would be much worse. Growth stalls as it would. Just one part was enough to go wrong and the whole thing would fall apart.

It was the kind of mindless optimism that only Bertie Booster could come up with. Happy England without Merrie. Fortunately, Sunak insisted, public finances would soon return to the bad state they were in 2010. He seemed to have forgotten that the Conservatives had been in power for the past 11 years.

Brand Rishi then faced a whole load of spending commitments that he had no idea if he could pay. A little about education, though nothing like the amount the recovery tsar had said he needed. Some level things up for the north, though HS2 is not mentioned. She was dead in the water. An unclear commitment to restore overseas aid to 0.7% in four years. Personally, he could not see the point, as he always thought it was a waste of money. What had Johnny Foreigner ever done for us?

There was little gag, even Philip Hammond had better lines than that, and a little precious enthusiasm from conservative benches, as the dull monotonous Brand Rishis lasted for more than an hour.

Partly because they had already heard most of it, but mainly because they did not believe their ears. Not even the mention of Brexit bonuses could delight them. What was a conservative government doing by spending money on poor people?

But I believe in low taxes, Brand Rishi said, as he finally inserted a page of his original budget draft into his speech. The real Sunaku had finally spoken. But no one had heard.

It was very little late: a bit like the man himself. The reduced Chancellor Mini-Me was now the Chancellor Mini-Mini-Me. With the recent increase in national insurance, taxes were now higher than ever since the early 1950s. If a Labor chancellor had given this budget, conservative banks would have voiced their disapproval.

Normally it is the opposition leader who responds to the chancellor, but Keir Starmer had tested positive with Covid 10 minutes before PMQ, so it was left to the shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, to intervene in a brief announcement.

It may be an unforgivable task when you do not know what the chancellor means, but Brand Rishi had made it much easier for her by getting it all out in advance. So this was her chance to excel, and she accepted it with joy.

Sunak had painted a picture of a Briton that most people did not know, she said. Where were the food shortages and the truck driver? Rising energy prices? 37 billion lost for testing and tracking? His budget was not as much as he mentioned. Or Covid, for that matter. And while there were some pieces that Labor could support, Brand Rishi in general had failed to seize the opportunity to protect the most vulnerable.

The universal credit cone was just a sop. The poorest people would be even worse off, being taxed at a higher rate than Bertie Booster herself. And bankers would still be very good with some tax breaks. And the green agenda was dead in the water with the reduction of air passenger duty: not the best view when you are ready to wait for the Cop26.

The longer it lasted, the more it was blocked by conservatives. A sure sign that they were shocked. Labor stocks cheered enthusiastically. The rift between the prime minister and his chancellor had been revealed.

And no one seemed to have any answer.

  • A Farewell to Calm by John Crace (Guardian Faber, 9.99). To support The Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Shipping fees may apply.

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