SANTA or the Grinch? Given the choice between the jolly gift giver and a prize grump, there is no question which one the average politician would like to be. As Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak finds himself this week in the tricky position of having to be a bit of both.

With his Spending Review due on Wednesday, it was his turn to tour the Sunday shows. The way had been prepared with a Sunday Times interview in which he tried on the half-Santa, half-Grinch guise for size, at once promising billions more for the NHS at the same time as warning that the spend, spend, spend approach to the coronavirus crisis would at one point have to stop, stop, stop. The question was how, and when, the vast sums borrowed to protect jobs and the NHS would have to be paid back.

In his Sunday Times interview, the Chancellor appeared to favour Spring 2021 as the starting point for tax rises. On The Andrew Marr Show, Paul Johnson, director of the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies, ran the rule over that.

Mr Johnson agreed that the numbers were remarkable – the highest borrowing ever outside of the first and second world wars – but any rush to bring in tax rises could hit confidence and hamper economic recovery. “We’re probably looking into the middle years of the 2020s but we need a clear route to doing that,” he said.

Asked if the public should accept tax increases, he said: “I think that’s right. I don’t think it’s right to scare people with the idea that this is going to happen immediately and I think it’s absolutely right the Government is clear it will do what it needs to do in the short run to support jobs and the economy.”

Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds agreed, saying that the worst thing that could be done now was to slam the brakes on hard and put the car into reverse.

But what of the Chancellor himself? Did he favour a Fast and Furious-style manoeuvre complete with handbrake turns, or a strictly within the speed limits journey towards economic normality?

“I can’t comment on future fiscal policy for all the obvious reasons,” he told Sky News’ Ridge on Sunday. “What you will see is more investment in day-to-day public services, getting on with our manifesto, investing in infrastructure to spread opportunity around the country, to drive the recovery.” The main focus for now remained on fighting coronavirus.

So much for Christmases to come. What about the present, Christmas 2020? Asked by Sophy Ridge if families would be able to meet, the Chancellor surprised no-one by declaring that “Christmas is not going to be normal this year”.

On the widely trailed and Grinch-like possibility of a public sector pay freeze, Mr Sunak did not want to be drawn on that before Wednesday, nor on the questions of cuts to foreign aid, changes to benefits or capital gains tax. He did not rule out a pay freeze, though.

“When we launched the spending review I did say to departments that when we think about public pay settlements I think it would be entirely reasonable to think of those in the context of the wider economic climate,” he told Ridge.

“I think it would be fair to also think about what is happening with wages, with jobs, with hours, across the economy, when we think about what the right thing to do in the public sector is.”

Frances O’Grady, the head of the TUC, warned against a pay freeze, telling Ridge: “We saw ministers join millions of us clapping firefighters, refuse collectors, social care workers – I don’t think this would be the time to reward them with a real pay cut.

“If you want to motivate a workforce when we are still facing a second wave of a pandemic, and we’re going to have a tough winter – we all know that – the last thing you do is threaten to cut their pay.”

With the row over Priti Patel still rumbling, it fell to the Chancellor to defend the Home Secretary against accusations of bullying. Despite an independent inquiry ruling that she had broken the ministerial code, the Prime Minister refused to sack her.

As Marr said in his introduction, Mr Sunak was the most popular politician in the country (if the country was the whole of the UK rather than Scotland). In any profile it is difficult to find anyone with a bad thing to say about him. What would he know of bullying?

“You have a very stressful life,” said Marr, “have you ever unintentionally bullied anyone?”

“Obviously bullying is not appropriate and it is not an effective way to get the best out of people,” began Mr Sunak.

Marr tried again. If someone in your office was shouting and swearing, would they keep their job?

“I don’t think shouting is an effective way to get the best out of people. But it is necessary sometimes to be direct in order to drive progress in an organisation, particularly under stressful circumstances.”

He added: “On a personal level, I’ve worked closely with Priti and found her to be entirely kind and very focused and passionate about what she does.”

Be it the Santa/Grinch divide or the row over the Home Secretary, Mr Sunak is a Minister fond of having things both ways.