Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell yesterday delivered their final speeches in the House of Commons as Labour leader and Shadow Chancellor respectively. Naturally, both statements were centred on the coronavirus crisis and our handling of it. Highlighting the stark irony of the measures now being introduced by a Tory government, from upping benefits to housing rough sleepers, Corbyn pointed out: “This crisis shows what government can do. It shows what government could have always done.” His closing speech at PMQs emphasised “the strength of a society that cares for each other”. Indeed, we were told shortly afterwards that 405,000 people signed up to volunteer for the NHS in just 24 hours.
While it has been remarkable to watch the Conservative government implement policies that Labour has long called for, ideology does seem to be shaping the response in some ways. Shadow immigration minister Bell Ribeiro-Addy has written for LabourList about how the hostile environment is being kept in place even amid this crisis: she says there are “too many migrants currently on the brink of destitution without recourse to public funds”, raises concerns about detention centres and calls for a pause on the immigration healthcare surcharge. 76 Labour MPs have signed a letter to the Prime Minister calling for the ‘no recourse to public funds’ migrant status to be suspended – and this is now officially Labour’s position, as McDonnell made the same demand in his coronavirus speech.
The virus does not discrimination between different types of ‘leave to remain’, of course. And just as immigration status should not be hindering the UK’s response to the pandemic, there must be recognition that this is indeed a pandemic and cooperation is therefore required. Leadership candidate Lisa Nandy has written for LabourList on this issue. Echoing the recent warnings of Gordon Brown, she says “isolation” and “nativism” is making the world “more fragile”. Now is precisely the time, Nandy argues, for more internationalism and not less.
All eyes will be on Rishi Sunak later today, as the Chancellor is expected to reveal the much-anticipated measures for the self-employed. The Treasury is apparently worried about Boris Johnson having spoken of “parity” between PAYE workers and those who will discover their fates this afternoon. This is according to The Sun, which has exclusively reported that the self-employed will have to wait until May to receive support from the government and that those who earned over £30,000 according to their last tax return will be excluded from the scheme.
If that report is accurate, it will be highly controversial. It would mean that the government assumes those earning £31,000 have significant savings, which they should deplete during this period, whereas those on £29,000 a year do not – an arbitrary judgment that would be pretty indefensible. Furloughed workers in the job retention scheme are being capped at that level of pay, but none are excluded in the same way, and their savings aren’t taken into account. This would be far from “parity of support” – and a long wait until May would in itself raise questions about the fairness of the proposals. Sunak cannot allow the idea that TV presenters have seen their incomes unaffected to overshadow the urgency of this situation for so many other Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.