Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. The Staggers
11 March 2020

Rishi Sunak hasn’t delivered a Labour Budget. This is something entirely new

In terms of public services, the Budget owed more to George Osborne than Gordon Brown, and on infrastructure it broke with both men. 

By Stephen Bush

Hey big spender? Rishi Sunak has announced a huge increase in public spending. “How will Labour respond?” is the question of the hour. Sunak sounds more like John McDonnell than Philip Hammond, doesn’t he?

Well, up to a point. It’s not really accurate to see this dramatic increase as a move towards the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn or Ed Miliband, or even Tony Blair for that matter. As far as day-to-day public spending is concerned, this Budget is much more austere than anything that would have been delivered by McDonnell or Ed Balls, and is very far from what Gordon Brown delivered too.

This Budget did something entirely new – it spent large sums on infrastructure, something that no British government has ever truly done in the democratic era. The majority of our infrastructure stems from the early 20th century or before. Although nominally Sunak has “only” brought British infrastructure spending back up to the standards of the 1950s, that underestimates the extent of the change. A lot of the United Kingdom’s immediate postwar infrastructure spending was about repairing the damage of war, rather than expanding new capacity, and building social housing (something this Budget largely does not do).

The level of ambition Sunak has shown on infrastructure doesn’t really have an analogue – McDonnell and Balls had similar ambitions, but what we think of as “austerity” – ie cuts to New Labour social programmes – is very much here to stay. This is a Budget in which cuts to public services, outside the core NHS and the police, will remain because of the government’s reluctance to contemplate major tax increases.

So what does it mean for Labour? Well, in practice, it doesn’t change very much, as talking about the condition of the public realm did not secure a Labour victory in 2015, 2017 or 2019. Some in the party may feel, however, that the shift in political expectations – and the fact that journalists are talking as if the public realm is going to experience a great level of financial largesse – is a useful change for them. But in practice, this is a change of political approach on infrastructure – not on public services. 

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy