Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds has declared that Rishi Sunak had “nothing new to say” in his keynote Conservative Party conference speech today on the government’s handling of the Covid-19 economic crisis.
Sunak did not announce any new measures in his address to the virtual conference this morning, despite warnings that workers in hard-hit sectors such as hospitality are facing a cliff edge as furlough ends this month.
The Chancellor has announced a job support scheme to replace the job retention scheme, but it does not offer targeted sectoral support and analysis has found that it does not sufficiently incentivise short-hours working.
Sunak used his speech to put forward a defence of the Prime Minister, promise that the “overwhelming might” of the state would help the unemployed and claim Tories in government will “always balance the books”.
The Chancellor said: “In a free market economy it is the entrepreneur, who is critical… We will protect the public finances, over the medium term getting our borrowing and debt back under control.
“We have a sacred responsibility to future generations to leave the public finances strong, and through careful management of our economy, this Conservative government will always balance the books.
“If instead we argue there is no limit on what we can spend, that we can simply borrow our way out of any hole, what is the point in us?”
Responding to the speech delivered by her opposite number in government, Labour’s Anneliese Dodds was critical of the lack of announcements, tweeting: “The Chancellor just spoke for ten minutes, but he had nothing new to say.
“No new targeted support for millions facing the furlough cliff edge. Nothing new for the self-employed. Nothing for those excluded so far. He just blew his chance to get a grip on Britain’s jobs crisis.”
Referring to Labour’s new attack ad campaign that derides the Chancellor’s graphics on social media, Dodds later added: “Britain risks the worst unemployment crisis in decades and Rishi Sunak’s name will be all over it.”
Touching on the same point of the address being unusually short with an abrupt ending, the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg tweeted after summarising the content of the ten-minute speech: “And erm, that’s it”.
Labour figures highlighted measures that Sunak could have announced today, such as the opposition party’s five suggested changes to Universal Credit during Covid, including removal of the savings limit that disqualifies many.
Deputy leader Angela Rayner tweeted: “Here’s an initial list to get started on: 1. Don’t cut Universal Credit 2. Sick pay and support for those isolating 3. Support for businesses struggling under restrictions 4. Support for workers facing end of furlough cliff edge.”
Trade unions affiliated to the Labour Party are demanding that the government listen to the recommendations of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who has formed an ‘Alliance for Full Employment’.
Unite the Union’s Len McCluskey has backed the AfFE project and argued that “the Tory government is doing far too little, much too late to halt the oncoming mass unemployment tsunami” in a new piece for The Mirror.
Commenting on the Chancellor’s speech, McCluskey said it offered “offered little more than thin gruel for fearful workers”. He urged Sunak to “produce a proper programme to stop our communities descending into jobs wastelands”.
Manuel Cortes, general secretary of transport union TSSA, described Sunak’s conference address as representing a “fall from grace” and said he had “crashed the hopes of the whole country with that curtailed, lacklustre speech”.
GMB acting leader John Phillips said: “Hard choices cannot mean austerity, cuts and punishing those who have shouldered the burden of getting us through this crisis. Slashing public spending again will not repair our economy or communities.”
The message of Community Union to Conservative Party conference this year warns: “If we want to continue to be a proud manufacturing nation, this government must give our industry a chance to have a prosperous future.”
Writing for LabourList last month, the TUC’s Frances O’Grady said the new job scheme was “an important step” but “just one piece in the jigsaw of support we need” and “ministers will need to do far more to protect livelihoods”.
Watch my Conservative Party Conference speech live here👇https://t.co/395A6DMR6S
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) October 5, 2020