As the youngest of three sons, I can wholeheartedly vouch for the benefits of being the most junior in the family when it comes to judging performance.
Some middling achievement at school? Joyous day, because at least I did better than the other two. Or not keeping pace? No matter; I was never meant for greatness anyway. And besides, have you seen how badly he did? As I smugly see it, expectations for the junior party are low and the bar for success is always relative.
The same ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ approach might currently apply to the contrasting fortunes of chancellor Rishi Sunak and prime minister Boris Johnson as they have ridden out the present crisis. Sunak – never minding the fact that he presides over a steep economic downturn, and it’s pretty easy to make friends when you’re dolling out cash – rides high as one Britain’s most popular politicians, with an approval rating of +41. Johnson on the other hand, only six months out from a landmark election success, languishes on a rather paltry +2.
Sunak continued his giveaway in yesterday’s summer economic update as he announced a further stimulus package to the tune of £30bn. The package included a job retention bonus of £1,000 to employers for every retained furloughed employee; a lifting of the threshold for paying stamp duty in England and Northern Ireland on properties up to a value of £500,000; a cut in VAT for hospitality sales from 20% to five per cent; and an “eat out to help out” discount that will apply a 50% discount of meals eaten at participating businesses in August up to £10 per head. Free cash for a job, a house and a meal – what’s not to like?
But Sunak should beware. The problem of the junior whose star shone too brightly was played out in France this week as president Emmanuel Macron sacked his otherwise successful prime minister Edouard Phillippe. Sure, cabinet refreshes at this point in an administration are de rigeur for French politics, as a president assesses his re-election chances. But comments by Phillippe’s successor, Jean Castex – a politician remarkably similar to Phillippe in outlook and background – that “he does not seek the limelight” were more telling for the president’s ambitions during the second half of his term.
Johnson and Macron are similar in this respect – politicians who are happiest when riding high in the polls and able to talk up their ambitions to transform their countries, preferring to delegate the usually onerous tasks of governing to colleagues. That Sunak seems to have made a success of his policy decisions to date with the public, with some talking of his potential to eclipse Johnson as a future leader following yesterday’s performance, will not have gone unnoticed in No 10.