You are reading this right – the Conservatives are arguing for spending tens of billions of public money without certain results, while the Labour Party is arguing for a much more precise use of taxpayers’ pounds.

Of course, over decades, some Tory governments have been big spenders. And of course, Labour has always cared about spending public money wisely.

But while coronavirus has had a profound impact on our health, it is also having an enormous impact on our economy – and on the political debate around it.

The reason for that is not that Labour has suddenly turned into a flock of fiscal hawks – as one party source joked today.

Perhaps, the uncertainties around how the pandemic affects people’s ability to make a living are so profound, traditional instincts are being blurred.

The numbers of job losses are cranking up every day.

Announcements from John Lewis and Boots were both proof the government would have no choice but to act to stem unemployment, but also a reminder that for many businesses, and many workers, it’s too late.

Decisions that were made public today were likely made in board rooms weeks ago.

And, on the day after the big statement from the chancellor, it’s become increasingly clear how uncertain the outcome of Rishi Sunak’s big ticket schemes will be.

That’s not just because one of the government’s top officials felt he had to put on the record doubts over the outcome of the scheme.

A “direction” like this is not unprecedented, but it is certainly unusual.

And that was compounded when the Tories made plain there had been such “directions” over all of the flagship schemes – like the furlough scheme – that have been introduced during the crisis.

That does not mean ministers have acted foolishly. It does not even mean officials believe the plans are a mistake.

But it does mean there is a significant level of doubt about how effective the plans that are meant to protect millions from the misery of unemployment will really be.

For one former Tory cabinet minister, the directions are an alarm bell.

“Reading between the lines,” they told me, “basically Treasury officials suggest that the money is a PR stunt with taxpayers’ money that won’t really save jobs.

“No wonder they wouldn’t sign them off.”

For government ministers ,the priority is to act big and to act fast. And if some of the money doesn’t end up in the right place, they believe that’s a price worth paying for the jobs that might be saved.

But it is notable how uncertain they are of the outcome too.

I understand the Treasury doesn’t have modelling of how many of the nine million workers on furlough’s jobs they expect to survive.

The offer to employers who take them back at a £1,000 each could cost up to £9bn – if every single one of them returns to work and is still on the pay roll by the end of January.

But several different Treasury sources told me today they haven’t been able to model how many jobs they expect to protect that way, or how many workers they expect to return to their previous roles.

Few expect, however, for the number to be anything like the nine million – with perhaps less than half of those jobs returning in their previous form.

The government is trying to find ways of protecting jobs quickly, and preserving employment after a huge shock.

But they are trying to stimulate the behaviour of businesses and consumers that they don’t control.

It may seem surprising that ministers have no firm expectation of how many people will participate in a huge scheme that is designed to minimise the misery of unemployment.

But, like it or not, it seems there is just too much unknown to be sure.

The government can manufacture big levers and pull them hard, but what happens at the other end is not just up to them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like

Gavin Newsom recall effort just got a major boost

Fox News Flash top headlines are here. Check out what’s clicking on The California governor’s days could be limited thanks to a growing effort to invoke a statewide referendum.  A campaign to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom is picking up…

ICE says illegal immigrants it arrested in FY 2020 had average of four criminal convictions, charges each

Fox News Flash top headlines are here. Check out what’s clicking on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced in its end-of-year report that the illegal immigrants it arrested in Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 had an average of four criminal…

Trump to pardon Susan B. Anthony on anniversary of 19th Amendment

Washington — President Trump announced Tuesday he is posthumously pardoning Susan B. Anthony, a leader of the women’s suffrage movement who was arrested for illegally voting in 1872. Mr. Trump announced the full pardon for Anthony during the signing of…

Early voting shows Democrats leading Republicans in historic battleground surge

Fox News Flash top headlines are here. Check out what’s clicking on Arizona’s first week of early voting has set records, with the number of ballots returned almost doubling from 2018 in the Copper State’s three largest counties. In…