Boris Johnson’s confused arguments and Labour’s bid to focus on Universal Credit

Sienna Rodgers
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor
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Boris Johnson put forward a confused argument at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday. In response to Keir Starmer asking about the millions of households soon to be £20-a-week worse off, the Prime Minister asserted both that Labour wants to scrap Universal Credit altogether, which means you won’t get your benefits, and that Labour wants to continue taking money in taxation and putting it into benefits. Er, right. Thérèse Coffey recent claimed that those losing out from the UC cut would only need to work two extra hours a week to make it up: this is either a deliberate lie or stunning incompetence, and Starmer made this point by highlighting that it would in fact take nine extra hours on minimum wage, or a whole day. And just how are those already in full-time work supposed to take that on?

The Prime Minister made another odd decision at PMQs when he declared that one in ten people in this country are currently on an NHS waiting list. Yes, it was Johnson who said that, not the opposition leader. The unsettling conclusion is that the government is supremely confident people will forget waiting times were at a record high even before the pandemic and will therefore be thankful that ministers are taking an interest in tackling the issue now – because anything related to Covid encourages the public to cut them a lot of slack, as seen in the May elections. They are cynically hoping to eliminate from history the effects of austerity by openly acknowledging problems and blaming them all on the pandemic.

Labour tried to draw attention to the impact of the UC cut with a PMQs and a debate on the matter. Bridget Phillipson delivered an impressive speech explaining why scrapping the uplift was not just political but personal to her. But the opposition day motion passed with zero votes against: a win not worth celebrating, as Tory MPs simply didn’t vote. As Angela Eagle said: “This government is showing such contempt that it can’t even be bothered to take part in these votes.” Westminster’s attention was instead with the cabinet reshuffle, which was both big (a lot of changes) and small (no discernible change in political direction). It appeared to be based on ConHome’s popularity rankings.

On LabourList, we covered PMQs, the Universal Credit debate and the reshuffle. Daniel Zeichner, currently taking over from Luke Pollard as shadow Defra lead, wrote about British farmers. Our biggest bit of news was the exclusive reveal of new party rule changes, which will go to Labour’s ruling body on Friday before being sent to conference. There is no mention of trigger ballots or leadership elections in this batch of proposals, but there are other interesting moves. Momentum has criticised a “bureaucratic power grab”, while Labour to Win described the changes as “uncontentious”. I’m sure you already have a fair idea of who you’ll agree with, but do check out my write-up for the key constitutional amendments. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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