Rachel Reeves could watch Kwasi Kwarteng with her eyes closed

There is a theory that people whose first name and last name begin with the same letter are destined for success.

Thus, Michael McIntyre, Farrah Fawcett, Robert Redford and Marilyn Monroe. (And, if you don’t like the latter because it wasn’t his real name, then have Maurice Micklewhite instead – AKA Michael Caine.)

Only some sort of alphabetical alchemy can explain how Kwasi Kwarteng became Chancellor. Sure, it sounds plausible. When he presented his mini-budget last week, he was reassuring and sure of himself and his approach. The problem is that the markets paid attention to what Kwarteng said, rather than how he said it. The fiscal event spawned a fiasco.

The market reaction seems slightly unfair on two counts.

First, Kwarteng uncapped bankers’ bonuses and cut taxes for the wealthy – he gave them the green light to make as much money as they can and yet the big boys of high finance hesitated, reacting like all toddlers to their first encounter with a large Santa Claus store.

He wants to give you a gift, but the strangeness and terror of the unknown outweighs the prospect of a reward – reluctance, screaming, temper tantrums ensue. (Kris Kringle is another with an alliterative name who has done well.)

Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng (Photo: Geoff Pugh/Shutterstock)

Plus, when we talk about “the markets” spooked by the Truss administration’s crackpot approach, we simply mean a number of spivs in the city who make their living by making complicated bets. The same lucky ones who brought down the economy 15 years ago and got away with it, by the way.

It would be reasonable to ask why they wield such influence, but the Tories can’t really play that game, given that David Cameron’s Tories bounced the nation back into a coalition government in record time in 2010, on the pretext that a delay would lead to “the markets” dumping on the United Kingdom. Either you heed the market verdict or you don’t.

Opportunity knocks for Rachel Reeves

Kwarteng will get another speech at the Tory conference next week. It seems reasonable to cower at the additional injuries he will inflict with this intervention.

But, as Kwasi Kwarteng attacks the economy, opportunity arises for another with matching initials – Rachel Reeves.

The Shadow Chancellor has looked like someone who smells of victory this week. Keir Starmer has been accused – often unfairly – of missing open goals while taking on the Tories.

Rachel Reeves has been Shadow Chancellor since 2021 (Photo: Dave Johnston)

Reeves has been presented with a clear objective and seems determined to get voters’ attention in the bullseye. For example, earmarking the reintroduced top tax rate to fund new NHS staff is morally, managerially and politically sound. The NHS has carried us through the dark days of the pandemic and must be rewarded and nurtured. The city caused the dark days of the credit crunch and is rewarded with Kwarteng.

Reeves hit the airwaves on Monday morning, ahead of her conference speech highlighting her experience as an economist at the Bank of England.

Some kind of stars in their eyes Gordon Brown?

Both Kwarteng and Reeves have city experience on their CVs but, while the former was preoccupied with growing profits for his corporate masters, the latter was in Threadneedle Street, plotting growth for all. That’s why Reeves is obviously a better chancellor candidate.

Kwasi Kwarteng tax event looks like a bold opening bet but does anyone believe it’s backed by the essential skills to win

She did her apprenticeship in opposition and it served her well. In 2015, the polls had Ed Miliband win and Reeves became his business secretary. She had only been an MP for five years and was not ready. Now she has a healthy lust for power.

It’s easy to characterize her as a sort of Stars In Their Eyes Gordon Brown on that basis — cautious, sensible, borderline desperate to get into number 11. But there’s more to her than that. Look closely and she looks like the synergy of all previous Labor winners.

Is there a bit of Ed Miliband about Reeves? (Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA)

She has Tony Blair’s election-winning focus. The understated way of Clement Attlee. The practical vision and political organization of Harold Wilson.

There’s even a bit of Ed Miliband geekiness about him, but, while his thing was making Rubik’s cubes, his obsession is chess – one associated with clumsy kids of the 1980s, the other with galaxy brains. Sure, chess’s reputation has been shaken up a bit recently with the story of the player allegedly cheating via email messages on his back pass, but even that seems relevant at the moment.

Champion Magnus Carlsen made a move and then walked away from the table because he didn’t feel like facing his opponent properly. The Kwasi Kwarteng tax event looks like a bold opening bet, but does anyone believe it’s backed by the essential skills to win at chess – intelligence, strategy, experience?

Reeves now has the entire board in front of her. If anyone knows how to make a winner from here, it’s her.


James Millar is a political commentator, author and former Westminster correspondent for the Sunday Post

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