What a contrast Rishi Sunak presents to Boris Johnson. Seen in profile, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is so thin and straight, he makes the Prime MInister look spherical.
Sunak has an insatiable appetite for facts and figures, reproduced in his Budget speech with all the eagerness and lucidity of a schoolboy who has done his homework and is confident of getting top marks.
Johnson has never treated facts and figures with enthusiasm, and does not always do his homework, preferring instead to rely on rhetorical brio and his eye for the main argument.
In other words, Sunak is a Wykehamist and Johnson an Etonian.
It is unusual to listen to a Chancellor, especially one delivering his first Budget, who sounds so entirely at ease with the more technical aspects of the nation’s finances. Here, one realised, we were in the presence of a specialist, who despite his relative youth, has spent many years preparing for this role.
And yet his intellect was not employed to baffle or confuse us. On the coronavirus, he assured us that “we will get through this together”.
“LIfe will return to normal,” he added, which was what we wanted to hear, after which he said the Bank had that morning cut interest rates by “50 basis points”, and one could repose in the knowledge that Sunak knows what a basis point is.
“The Governor and I have been in constant communication about the evolving situation,” he added: a pleasantly old-fashioned assurance.
Sunak is going to spend huge sums of money, and sounded completely convinced that this is the right thing to do. He spoke again and again of deeds: “This Budget gets it done… This Budget gets it done… This Budget gets it done.”
Not much has been done yet: there hasn’t been time. But Sunak declared in a straight rather than a cynical tone that the Government is mobilising the full resources of the Treasury in order to bring tangible benefits to the Labour voters who voted Tory in December.
“The Conservatives – the real Workers’ Party,” as he put it. Labour’s clothes have been stolen by a Chancellor who sounds like a pillar of rectitude rather than a thief.
Labour and the Scottish Nationalists heard him in glum silence as he used his power to do all sort of things they would have liked to have done.
Sunak brought a blush to the cheek of Mark Spencer, the Chief Whip,who is also a Nottinghamshire farmer, by joking about how successfully Spencer had lobbied for the retention of red diesel in the agriculture sector.
But he didn’t tell too many jokes. As Sunak announced a new fund to fill in the nation’s potholes, Johnson, sitting on the bench behind him, beamed with pleasure.
The Chancellor sounded neither nervous nor arrogant. Nor did the House feel nervous on his behalf. It realised this beginner knows what he is doing.
Johnson is good at promoting people with gifts quite different to his own. In Sunak the Government has a new star.