Rachel Reeves unveiled a new economic plan over the weekend: to “make, sell and buy more in Britain”. While looking to raise standards and set precedents with trading partners around the world, Labour says in government it would: give more public contracts to British businesses; grow ‘industries of the future’ by reshoring jobs; work with businesses and trade unions to build on the UK-EU trade deal, and only sign trade deals in the interests of the NHS. This is a post-Brexit, post-Covid, mid-climate breakdown proposal aiming to show ambition and to start answering the question of what is Labour’s story and vision for the country. The intervention has been planned for some time, but does come after the defeat in Hartlepool and the narrow hold in Batley and Spen, which have made “the vision thing” a pressing demand of the Labour leadership. It has been warmly received by the TUC, Unite, GMB, Community.
When Labour under Jeremy Corbyn announced its “Build it in Britain” campaign, it was criticised, including by some within the party, for being too positive about Brexit and too protectionist. The Reeves plan comes under a different leadership and at a different time. Brexit has happened and even the most ardent Remainers in the parliamentary party accept that. The Shadow Chancellor also wants to make clear that this is not protectionism: it is about working with partners across the globe, rather than shutting off avenues. In Covid terms, Labour is asking what the UK can learn from the vaccine rollout, as opposed to the personal protective equipment contracts too often handed to companies linked to tax havens and not British firms.
The focus today is on the end of coronavirus restrictions, as Boris Johnson will lead a press conference later to make the announcement. “We must learn to live with Covid” is the key message ahead of July 19th, when it is expected that social distancing and masks will go as well as the tougher rules. The debate is now around whether small compulsory measures that come at little cost for most people – such as wearing a face covering on public transport – should be scrapped despite cases rising. Labour mayors such as Sadiq Khan, Andy Burnham and Dan Norris have already indicated that they are leaning towards the pro-masks side.
Shadow minister Lucy Powell said on her morning media round that everyone wants to get back to life as normal as quickly as possible but Labour is seeking transparency on the science, i.e. the line taken by Reeves for the Sunday shows. So far, instead of directly criticising the relaxing of rules to be announced today, the party nationally has highlighted the areas that the Prime Minister is apparently not set to address, from schools to international travel, and questioned the continued need for ten-day isolation periods. The TUC, meanwhile, is naturally drawing attention to the workplace, stressing that “ministers cannot wash their hands of keeping people safe at work”.
In parliament this afternoon, there is lots of controversial legislation being presented to MPs. The elections bill will be introduced, bringing in mandatory voter ID in a move that Labour has criticised as tantamount to US-style “voter suppression”. Robert Jenrick will be presenting the building safety bill, which falls short of past government promises to protect leaseholders from unmanageable safety works costs. If ministers refuse to go further with their proposals, there may be further Tory rebellions on this issue. And finally, the infamous police, crime, sentencing and courts bill will be debated. Although it covers a wide range of hugely significant matters, little time is being given to scrutiny with both the report and third reading stages taking place today. LabourList will be following whether Labour can get any changes made to this dangerous legislation. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.