HENRY DEEDES sees a relaxed Chancellor bat away the Budget critics

Smiling Rishi Sunak had the charm and manners of a Regency princeling: HENRY DEEDES sees a relaxed Chancellor bat away the Budget critics

A first at yesterday’s Treasury committee: A Chancellor who actually seemed happy to be there.

It’s never been seen before. Gordon Brown would chew his fingers and scowl at anyone who dared question his precious numbers.

I can recall George Osborne spending an entire session drumming his fingers with the impatient air of someone with a train to catch.

Rishi Sunak, by contrast, was a model of courtly deference.

For almost three hours, the committee tried to unpick his budget, yet he maintained the charm and manners of a Regency princeling throughout.

For almost three hours, the committee tried to unpick his budget, yet he maintained the charm and manners of a Regency princeling throughout

On the rare occasions when he was unable to respond, he offered to write to them.

He even laughed at their terrible jokes.

For the life of me, I couldn’t work out why he looked so happy. Then the penny dropped.

Being there got him out of attending the Cop26 snoozeathon in Glasgow. Jackpot!

Dishi arrived shortly after 3pm dressed in that black suit, black tie combo that seems to have become his uniform.

All part of building the brand, no doubt. Can a Sunak doll be far behind?

Accompanying him were a pair of fresh-faced Treasury bods: director of strategy Dan York-Smith and the wonderfully named director of public spending, Conrad Smewing.

An ignorant observer might have mistaken them for two lads on work experience.

Let’s see if Rishi’s still smiling by the next election, when we’ve all felt the brunt of his tax rises

Mr Stride is a former chief secretary to the treasury and thus speaks the language of the Treasury

Much of the early bowling was hogged by committee chairman Mel Stride (Con, Central Devon).

Mr Stride is a former chief secretary to the treasury and thus speaks the language.

Stride was curious about the fiscal targets Rishi had set himself in his Budget.

He wondered what was keeping him awake at night.

The Chancellor smiled and twiddled his pen.

Judging by his nonchalance, I’m not sure he loses sleep over anything.

He felt he had a ‘better than a cat in hell’s chance’ of hitting his targets. Well, that’s comforting.

Tax cuts were much discussed.

Stride wasn’t sure why Sunak had declared himself to be a low-tax Chancellor but barely cut any in the Budget.

Rishi mumbled something about adjusting the taper rate on universal credit.

Suddenly, we heard spluttering from the end of the horseshoe table that the committee were perching around.

‘That’s not a tax cut!’ squawked Siobhain McDonagh (Lab, Mitcham and Morden) ‘That’s a benefit adjustment!’

Siobhain McDonagh accused Sunak of idolising Margaret Thatcher but being more like Ted Heathand presiding over a low-growth, high-tax economy

Her arms folded crossly. She accused Sunak of idolising Margaret Thatcher but being more like Ted Heath and presiding over a low-growth, high-tax economy.

The Chancellor’s once-languid body language now seized up.

His shoulders stiffened. One arm tenderly rubbed the other.

Occasionally he would shoot McDonagh a nervy smile. It was as though he’d been buttonholed at a cocktail party by the guest from hell.

The pyrotechnics swiftly fizzled out when Angela Eagle (Lab, Wallasey) was invited to speak.

Miss Eagle, you will know, has a monotone that could make flowers wilt in the vase.

She wanted to address government waste. ‘We could talk about test and trace,’ Eagle droned.

‘Well, I can’t because I wasn’t the minister responsible,’ Rishi interjected hurriedly. Translation: Blame Hancock.

Goodness, it was heavy going at times. But the irrepressible Rishi beamed on regardless

Eagle inquired about the manifesto-busting decision to undo the triple lock on pensions. What was that going to save the Government?

Rishi palmed this off on to Conrad. He shot him a look as if to say, ‘Sorry, pal.’ Conrad smiled nervously. ‘Er, it’s £6billion a year,’ he replied.

‘I think,’ said Eagle tartly, ‘you’ll find it works out at £30.5billion over the next five years.’ Same thing, of course, though the boys were too polite to point that out.

Goodness, it was heavy going at times. But the irrepressible Rishi beamed on regardless.

Let’s see if he’s still smiling by the next election, when we’ve all felt the brunt of his tax rises.

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