Downing Street’s muddled thinking on schools, Covid-19 and travel presages on autumn of unprecedented challenges

All politicians sloganise in haste and repent at leisure. John Major spent years having “back to basics” thrown at him every time a Conservative politician was caught in flagrante. Gordon Brown didn’t, as he claimed he had, end “boom and bust” after all. David Cameron and George Osborne coined “all in this together” long before the 2008 crash, but it became a useful summary of the Conservatives’ pitch to rebuild the economy – and something critics could remind the prime minister of every time he or anyone around him enjoyed a glass of champagne.

Boris Johnson and his chancellor, Rishi Sunak, have spent the past few months trying to capture imaginations with a series of lines about their handling of coronavirus. There was the promise that the government would put its “arms around every single worker”, an odd phrase to use while also urging people to stay two metres away from one another. Last week, after a slew of miserable statistics about jobs and the economy, Sunak said that, while Britain was in hard times, “no one will be left without hope or opportunity”. It was a typically elegant line from the chancellor, but it also puts him in a bit of a bind. Even a nebulous pledge like this one is easy to miss: can Sunak really say with confidence that, come the autumn, when the furlough scheme ends and many people lose their jobs, no one will struggle with a sense of hopelessness?

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