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Speed Read – May the purse be with you (Budget special)

Every week, The Friday Speed Read opens its red dispatch case and takes out the news stories over which it’s going to run the rule; it is almost always taxing for all involved

Money, money, money,
Must be funny,
In a rich man’s world
Abba, 1977

This will come as a surprise to very few of you but I am not the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I claim a modest few competencies in my life – I make a decent soup, I can write you an overly-wrought poem should you require one and I recently tiled my new kitchen floor, an achievement that ranks so highly in my life that I sent many photographs to many friends of said floor and when the plaudits flooded in –  “that looks nice”, “well done Jim”, “are you sure about the colour?” – I felt like the King of the World. However, my fiscal skills are limited, and I certainly don’t possess the foggiest idea about how to tackle the worst financial crisis the UK has seen since that date in the C18th that I can’t be bothered to look up now and is likely untrue anyway. Maybe if cheese was cheaper everyone would buy more cheese and the tax revenues would pay for extending the furlough?

That’s a terrible idea. Not least because it’s fairly certain that increased obesity means increased chance of dying from Covid so we really, really don’t need to eat any more cheese. But it’s SO GOOD! No. NO more cheese. Only on special occasions. Like weekends. And Bank Holidays. And Wednesdays. So yes, even if Rishi Sunak has messaged me on our Star Wars Whatsapp Group (it’s called “Star Bores” – we’re so ironic and crazy!) and asked for my help in preparing this week’s Budget then I’d have probably just told him to ask our pal Sam Bader instead (he calls himself “Darth Bader” – he’s so whacky) because he definitely has an ISA.

But then I’d think for a moment and I’d send a follow-up message and it would be read as follows.

Yo Rish. Ask Darth Bader (lol) defo. He once read the FT on a train. But one thing buddy – given most whack year EVS, maybe give NHS peeps a pay rise? #heroes #justsayin #MTFBWY

I wouldn’t hear back from old Luke Rishwalker for a couple of hours but that would be fine, he was having to save an entire financial system from collapse and plus I know for a fact that he’d been saving the final episode of the Mandalorian since before Christmas (like, how?) to watch in the week of the Budget as a reward for being clever but eventually my phone would ping with a reply:

Yo Jabba. Nice tiling. You sure about the colour though? #MTFBWY

I don’t know what they want from me
It’s like the more money we come across
The more problems we see
The Notorious B.I.G., 1997

Now I’m not saying that Rishi should have listened to his old mate Jim. No wait, actually I am saying that. I am saying that with all the force and heft that the English language affords me. One thing you could have done Rish, ONE thing that would have united both your many fans and your detractors, drawn praise from the right-wing press and the left wing press alike and given the entire nation something at which to nod and say to whoever was sitting next to them on the sofa at the time, “Yep, I agree with that” was to give NHS workers a pay rise. A proper pay rise. More than the 1% that has been agreed, a 1% that will be eaten up quickly by inflation and feels closer to an insult than a reward. This wouldn’t have solved the financial crisis, in fact in some ways it would have worsened it, but it would have done is shown some proper gratitude to the thousands upon thousands who’ve been through hell (and this is not a hyperbole) in our overwhelmed hospitals and care homes during the pandemic. No one would have argued; no one save for the most dunderheaded of Covid-deniers (fallen hero Ian Brown of the Stone Roses would do well to read the news every now and then) would have suggested it was unfair on all the rest of is who haven’t stared into the hollowed face of daily multiple deaths this past year. Just give them a pay rise Rishi. Why didn’t you give them a proper pay rise?

“Sunak under fire as NHS staff offered 1% pay rise” (The Guardian); “Insult to NHS heroes” (The Mirror); “NHS fury as the heroes of the pandemic get 1% pay rise” (i). The front page of The i also quotes an anonymous doctor: “Is the government saying ‘let them eat claps’”

If I hadn’t seen such riches,
I could live with being poor
James, 1990

Aside from Friday’s NHS pay outrage, what was billed as the most important budget perhaps ever received something of a mixed response. No one argues that it was a near-impossible task, one which would have had even the most wizened of economists scratching their heads and saying that you’re going to have to give them a minute. And nearly no one argues that the record government borrowing will have to repaid via a range of tax rises which, for party instinctively opposed to big government, is a very bitter pill to swallow. But in the short term, the state’s support for the millions financially imperilled by Coronavirus is of course hugely welcome. The extension of the furlough scheme all the way to September, the numerous grants and payments available to businesses, the better-late-than-never money for the self-employed, further support for the near-extinct arts sector, all of it extraordinary, unthinkable a year ago, all of it unprecedented (and yes, I’ll put money in the swear box) but if it helps get the UK back to some sort of normality, if it spares more people the pain, fear and indignity of losing their job then it will have all been worth it. Just don’t ask the Telegraph to be happy about it: “Sunak’s five-year tax grab . . . will cast a shadow over us for decades”.

I’ve got the brains,
You’ve got the looks,
Let’s make lots of money

The Pet Shop Boys, 1986

A quick gallop through the fields of other news this week finds some potentially bad news about a mutant Brazilian strain of Covid being found in the UK and the hunt for a missing person who’d tested positive for it; but in much, much better Covid news, some proper data on the efficacy of the Oxford vaccine in the ‘real world’ was published which showed that it cut the risk of serious infection by up to 80% which is just brilliant; among plunging numbers of new infections, hospitalisations and deaths, the Telegraph reported on Tuesday that fewer than 10 patients a day are now being admitted to intensive care with Cornavirus – this is still horrible for those 10 but in terms of the national picture this is a world away from what we faced in January; there’s been a tabloid frenzy about a row between harryandmeghan and Buckingham Palace (the metonym, not the actual building) that I don’t have the energy to go into here; and it seems that Boris might have to set up a charity to raise funds to pay for Carrie’s redecoration of their Downing Street flat. Which all sounds outrageous of course but there’s more than a whiff of misogyny in the reporting.

Money talks, mmm, mmm, money talks
Dirty cash I want you, dirty cash I need you, ooh

The Adventures of Stevie V, 1990

And to end, a track not about money but, according to our resident audiophile Professor Shaun “Chancellor of Funk” Hickman, one that is “chirpy indie pop songcraft with an 80s twist that won’t leave your head” and a video that is an X-Files pastiche. If Shaun backs it, then you should all invest.

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