Margaret Thatcher had an acronym that she employed during her premiership: TINA – There Is No Alternative. For Thatcher this was used to face down opposition (including within her own Cabinet) for a programme of labour market reform, financial market deregulation, and privatisation. Even if he didn’t use the phrase explicitly TINA must have been in Rishi Sunak’s mind as he unleashed a set of public spending commitments in late March that has not been seen outside of wartime.
The scale of the public health threat and the economic hibernation the Government imposed to deal with it meant that there probably was ‘no alternative’ to the furlough scheme, to CBILS, or to unlimited Bank of England liquidity. That governments across the G20 largely ended up doing something broadly similar adds to the feeling that such measures were inevitable.
Forced by Government edict to shut down almost overnight businesses demanded support to tide them over; unable to go to work because of the public health requirement to ‘stay home’ households expected their incomes protected. But while the Treasury and HMRC performed a Herculean task in getting this set of assistance schemes up and running so quickly, they were actually politically straightforward. It’s only now that the political heavy-lifting begins.
Because, contrary to the Iron Lady’s maxim, there now is an alternative. In fact there are now many alternatives open to the Government as it ponders the right balance of tax, spending and debt for an economy that is moving, tentatively, out of this enforced hibernation.
Sunak has some big decisions to make, whether in the Summer Economic Update he will provide on 8 July or later in the year.