Government looks to distract from Gray report with new cost-of-living measures

Katie Neame
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor
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Rishi Sunak is to bring forward additional cost-of-living support measures today, expected to include Labour’s proposal of a windfall tax on oil and gas companies. You might wonder at the timing, the day after Sue Gray’s report into ‘partygate’ was released. Keir Starmer was pondering it himself during Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, asking Boris Johnson: “What is it about the Sue Gray report that first attracted him to a U-turn this week?” That the policy has gone from being “unconservative” in the eyes of senior Tory officials a week ago to being a key element of their new support package does beg the question: what’s changed?

Government minister Steve Barclay said the new measures were in response to Ofgem’s announcement on Tuesday: that it expects to raise the energy price cap to £2,800 in October, an increase of £800. But the energy regulator already increased the price cap by £693 in April, and the government continued to resist Labour’s call for a windfall tax. Ministers were unmoved by the Office for Budget Responsibility’s prediction in March that living standards would fall at the fastest annual rate since the mid-1950s. They also chose not to act after it was estimated earlier this month that the number of food-insecure adults had risen from 4.7 million to 7.3 million since January.

Announcing new support measures today is a fairly blatant attempt to distract attention from Gray’s findings. The senior civil servant wrote that “the senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility” for the “culture” at the “heart of government”. Gray detailed “excessive” drinking, with one event on June 18th 2020 seeing a minor altercation between two individuals and another throwing up. This at a time when indoor socialising with people from other households was banned.

The report also revealed the brazen attitude of No 10 staff, including Martin Reynolds, Boris Johnson’s principal private secretary, who sent an already infamous WhatsApp message to a special advisor in May 2020, saying “we seem to have got away with” a recent drinks event. Most damning of all perhaps were the “multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff” who had tried to raise objections to the social gatherings, something Gray described as “unacceptable”.

The government’s repeated failure to respond to the cost-of-living crisis has pushed households up and down the country to breaking point. We have yet to discover the exact measures the Chancellor will announce today. He is due to address the Commons at 11.30. It remains a possibility that the package will be as limited and poorly thought through as his previous attempts – especially given that the priority on this occasion is saving the Prime Minister’s skin rather than alleviating the pressure on the British public. Make no mistake, today’s announcement is just the latest episode in the increasingly desperate saga of ‘Operation Save Big Dog’.

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