There are (at least) two overlapping but distinct groups of people gunning for Rishi Sunak: opposition politicians worried that he’s an extremely plausible successor to Boris Johnson, and wonks outraged that the Chancellor is reaping huge political dividends for getting so many big calls, in their view, extremely wrong.
Eat Out to Help Out, as the policy which turned him into ‘Rishi’, is the prime target. Sunak’s critics – including Ryan Bourne of this parish – argue that it was deeply ill-judged.
Not only do they suggest it turned restaurants into a vector for transmitting Covid-19, but that as the lynchpin of a broader push to get things “back to normal” it likely encouraged people to indulge in other, even riskier forms of social behaviour, such as house parties.
Defenders of the scheme are no less sure of themselves, and argue that the data actually tell a completely different story. Now the Treasury has backed them up with new evidence which it claims shows that there is no link between areas which had high take-up of Eat Out to Help Out and subsequent spikes in coronavirus cases. The official word is:
“These figures confirm that take-up of Eat Out to Help Out does not correlate with incidence of Covid regionally – and indeed where it does the relationship is negative.”
Will this assuage Sunak’s critics? Probably not. Bourne’s argument actually anticipated the criticism, suggesting that such data is of limited use in assessing the relative damage wrought by individual policies at a time when prevalence of the virus, and thus absolute risk, was relatively low. But one suspects that, when weighed against the enormous political (and, in their view, economic) dividends delivered by the policy that elevated the Chancellor to the rarefied ranks of politicians known to the public by their first names, the Treasury will likely be happy to settle for that.