“Our health emergency is not yet over and our economic emergency has only just begun,” Rishi Sunak told us as he launched into his spending review. 2.5 million public sector workers will see their pay frozen – including 90% of police, 80% of fire service and 75% of prison officers, at least 80% of secondary school teachers and 75% of those in primary schools. This, remember, just a week after the PM unveiled the biggest investment in defence since the Cold War. The Chancellor announced a new £4bn ‘levelling up’ fund that will see MPs bid for money in what looks to be the same mechanism that led to the controversy over the Towns Fund – in which the Tories prioritised spending to marginal seats ahead of the last election. He was silent on the £20 uplift to Universal Credit – the emergency top-up grudgingly given earlier in the pandemic. Failing to extend it will slash annual incomes for 16 million households by £1,040 in April. And, of course, the Chancellor rounded off all that (and much more) by going back on the Tory manifesto promise to keep UK aid spending at 0.7% of gross national income.
The fallout from the review rumbles on today. Tory backbenchers and grandees are furious over the aid budget. Unions have roundly condemned Sunak’s statement as “austerity plain and simple” and slammed the government for pitting public sector against private employees. Anneliese Dodds has been doing the media round this morning and it is all about “responsible choices” for the Shadow Chancellor. Echoing Keir Starmer in PMQs yesterday, she emphasised the need to stamp out the “eye-watering waste and mismanagement” on the Today programme. Tory cronyism in Covid public procurement and incompetent splurging of taxpayer money featured prominently in her response to the spending review. The party is keen to highlight that while the government is busy laying the burden of the pandemic on millions of the lowest paid and those on the Covid frontline, it has spent months “spraying public money at contracts”. While friends of the Tories make bank and the PM wastes your hard-earned cash, low-paid workers pay the price.
The row over Starmer deciding to withhold the Labour whip from Jeremy Corbyn after he was readmitted to the party is set to escalate. Sources close to Corbyn say there was a deal with Starmer’s office for his reinstatement, including agreement on the timing and wording of his second statement, and they believe the publication of correspondence will “show that there was a deal”. This claim is disputed by those close to the current leader. Corbyn’s team is starting legal proceedings and will submit a pre-action disclosure application today. One source told LabourList: “One way or another, things will come out in the wash soon enough.” Meanwhile, Labour left national executive committee members have said they took the decision to withdraw from the meeting on Tuesday “in the hope of pressing a reset button and returning hopefully to a more reasonable environment”. Speaking at a Momentum-hosted online event last night, newly-elected reps Gemma Bolton and Mish Rahman discussed the virtual walkout and made a call for party unity. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.