2020 Party Conference Season: Treasury roundup

In a series of blogs the Vuelio Policy team will be sharing insight from the main Party Conference speeches and from fringe meetings. Here Ingrid Marin compares the speeches of the Chancellor and Shadow Chancellor.

Is Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s goal to balance the books premature?
During his speech at the Conservative Conference last Monday, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, highlighted the success of the furlough scheme which has been widely praised for protecting jobs during the height of the pandemic. He reiterated that he would not be able to protect every job in the UK, and instead pledged: ‘I am committing myself to a single priority – to create, support and extend opportunity to as many people as I can’. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has also promised to ‘always balance the books’ in his speech at the Conservative Conference. He claimed that the Conservative Party had a ‘sacred duty’ to ‘leave the public finances strong’ but also promised to use the ‘overwhelming might of the British state’ to help people find new jobs. He warned that the Government could not ‘borrow our way out of any hole’ and that debt and spending would need to be controlled in the ‘medium term’. Responding to the Chancellor’s speech, Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds said Sunak didn’t appear to have ‘grasped the magnitude of the jobs crisis we’re facing’ and said that this is not the time for tax rises, this is the time to “remain focused on the jobs crisis”. She was particularly concerned that there was no further support in the speech for areas subject to localised restrictions. Similarly, in the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ (IFS) Green Budget the think tank concludes that ‘now is not the time for tax increases or any other form of fiscal consolidation’ and calls for government policy to focus on ‘supporting the economy almost irrespective of short-term impacts on borrowing’ for the next 18 months at least.

Four days after this speech at the Conservative Conference, Chancellor Rishi Sunak did set out more financial support for businesses that will have to close by law as virus restrictions are tightened in parts of England.

Is the Shadow Chancellor’s three-point plan for the economy out of date?
The core of Anneliese Dodds’ speech at the Labour Conference was to highlight that the UK Government’s response to the public health crisis has been slow and that it is not dealing with the major economic challenges the country is facing. During her speech, Ms Dodds unveiled three steps Labour wanted the Government to take on board and put into place as a ‘matter of absolute urgency’. Since then, much has changed, with the Government announcing various support schemes, however, parts of Anneliese Dodds speech still remain relevant today.

She championed a ‘Job Recovery Scheme’ that would allow businesses in key sectors to bring back more staff on reduced hours. Even though, Rishi Sunak did introduce the Job Support Scheme as part of the Winter Economic Plan, Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds questioned whether the scheme actually incentivises short-hours working as it has to be more attractive for employers to retain more staff on reduced hours than to retain some full time and make others redundant. Since then, she has been constantly calling for reforms to fix the flaws in the design of the Job Support Scheme.

Anneliese Dodds said there needed to be a retraining strategy that was fit for purpose, at a scale appropriate for the crisis. She said the Government has already advocated a National Skills Strategy and set aside £3bn for it, but said it wasn’t getting on with it.

During a fringe event hosted by the Institute for Government at Labour Conference, asked how he would spend that money, Shadow Exchequer Secretary, Wes Streeting said he would work with local authorities and metro mayors to direct skills funding to the right places for their authorities. Shortly afterwards, the Prime Minister did announce the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, however, Shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Dan Carden, said that the new training initiatives are little more than a mix of reheated existing policies and funding that won’t be available until April 2021. He thinks that by then, some people will have been out of work for a year or more, so it risks being too late for many.

Is Labour now the party of financial responsibility?
During the Labour Conference, the party sought to paint itself as the party of financial responsibility. Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds accused the Government of taking a ‘cavalier’ approach to the public finances during the coronavirus crisis. In her speech, she accused the Government of wasting ‘enormous amounts of public money’ on failed schemes to tackle Covid, such as a £130m contract with a Conservative donor for testing kits that were unsafe and £150m on facemasks that could not be used by NHS staff. She published a ‘file of failure’ which shows the billions of pounds wasted and mismanaged by ministers during the Covid crisis.

During a fringe event hosted by IPPR, she emphasised that her speech was not an argument in favour of austerity, it was ‘quite the opposite’. Anneliese Dodds said the Conservatives claim they are already spending lots, but she thinks we need to look at where that money is going. She said that in many cases, the Government’s response to the crisis has been an ideological one. For example, they have provided significant contracts, which are part of our public health response, not to local public services in the case of Test, Trace and Isolate, but to major outsourcers which are not required to integrate with local services. The result is that is has set us back much further than other countries.

Labour’s long, hard road back to Number 10

The thinktank IPPR hosted a fringe event at Labour Connected, the party’s virtual conference on 20 September asking how Labour can rebuild a winning coalition of voters in order to regain power at the next election.

Carys Roberts, the Chief Executive of IPPR, chaired the event and said that clearly a future winning coalition would look different to previous ones in 1997, 2001 and 2005. She acknowledged the road back to power for Labour ‘looks challenging’ after the heavy defeat of 2019.

Lucy Powell reflected on the report into the 2019 election defeat that she put together with help from Ed Miliband and many others across the Labour party. She recognised the report needed to ‘look to the future and learn lessons from the past’ and she also stressed how important it was to do this work, given no analysis was done of the three previous Labour General Election defeats in 2010, 2015 or 2017.

Reflecting on the historic 2019 defeat for Labour, Lucy Powell said 2019 had been a very low point for the party in terms of Brexit, its then leadership under Jeremy Corbyn and a manifesto that wasn’t widely seen as an effective document. She said the crumbling of the red wall heartlands constituencies, however, had been ‘a long time coming’ given changes within the party and its policies over time. She also said that in 2019 the Conservatives managed to turn out two million more non-voters that Labour which had a significant impact on the result.

The report highlights several routes back for Labour which include a clear focus on immigration to win back the red wall seats; a credible centre-left economic package of measures similar to the party’s 1997 manifesto or an ambition for Labour to be the agents of change in difficult economic circumstances. She concluded the latter option was by far the best for the party and added: ‘We have to be the party at next General Election of big economic change’ and this meant in the workplace as well as in the community.

Nadia Whittome said the party had great policies within its 2019 manifesto but it didn’t have a narrative tying everything together. She also said the party was always going to struggle in an election fought solely on Brexit, but added the party lost more votes to the Greens and the Lib Dems than it did to the Conservatives.

Ms Whittome recognised the importance for the party of regaining seats across the UK from Scotland to Swindon and said deindustrialised towns were key to whether the party will win power again or not. She warned against a global right-wing media stoking fear of others, but also added some manifesto policies that were perceived to be too radical in 2019 would now, in light of Covid, be seen as not radical enough.

Matt Kerr, a Glasgow City councillor reflected on the situation in his city where some of Labour’s safest constituencies ‘fell like dominoes’ to the SNP in 2015. He reflected that though the party made progress in Scotland in 2017 it was reversed in 2019. Kerr warned that Labour took post-industrial communities for granted or failed to tackle the fundamentals that were eroded under successive Conservative Governments.

He warned the party to take note of the 2019 defeat and change as he said Scottish Labour was still suffering after its 2007 defeat to the SNP. He urged ‘fight hard now and don’t let them [the Conservatives] dig in’. While he opposed Scottish independence, he said the party need to face up to a bigger question about it not least because 40% of Scottish Labour voters moved to the SNP in 2015 and have not come back to the Labour fold.

Paul Mason said the party needed to change its strategy and its economic agenda. He also said that if it was clear before the next election that the party is unlikely to gain 123 seats required to form a Government, then it need to embrace working with other opposition parties in terms of electoral pacts.

Paul Mason reflected on the differences between Holborn in London and Wigan in the North West. These were two very different types of working-class communities and said Labour still needed to explain the benefits of immigration in poorer communities outside London.

Mason also said that the party was on the backfoot in terms of its media presence and the dominance of the Conservative leaning press. He said the party should address this and noted currently the ‘heavy lifting’ in terms of publicising Labour’s campaign messaging was being done by fringe outlets like Skwawkbox and Novara Media.

In terms of policies that the party needs to win an election, Paul Mason said they need to be ‘substantial’ to make someone vote Labour and not Conservative. He added that ‘Water nationalisation not a big enough issue to make people change sides.’

James Morris, a former adviser to Ed Miliband said that given Keir Starmer inherited a ‘tarnished brand’ from his predecessor only months ago, the fact the party is already level with the Conservatives in some polls shows major progress has been made already. He also urged the party to once again embrace people who were left leaning economically but right leaning on culture and identity, in order to win a majority again.

Morris said the media doesn’t focus on Conservative credibility in the same way as Labour credibility, given the lack of criticism for Boris Johnson’s £100 billion ‘Moonshot’ idea. He added that the party had to focus on winning and worry less about policies that are of little interest to most of the public at this stage in the electoral cycle. He concluded that with a new leader in post, the party now needed to begin to establish its agenda and build trust with the public in order to stand any chance of winning in 2024.



Christmas Gift Guide Requests

‘Tis the season (for contributing to Christmas gift guides)

While the start of Christmas 2020 feels both too far away and yet too soon, we’re already firmly into Christmas gift guide compilation season in the world of magazines, newspapers, blogs, websites and TV shows. Journalists from outlets spanning national press and television, trade titles, regional magazines and more are busy arranging contributions from PRs for their Xmas 2020 product round-ups and festive features via the ResponseSource Journalist Enquiry Service.

Here are just some of the requests sent out so far for filling up features and readers’ stockings this year…

Pricey and budget product round-ups
– Boutique-y fashion, tech and homeware accessories available for retailers to start stocking.
– Pet gifts (cat beds, dog baskets, fish tanks, bird boxes, those fancy hamster cages that have the fluorescent tunnels/look like a holiday park).
– Healthy foods for those on a SmartPoint saver plan who still want to indulge in the stickiest and sweetest of stuff.
– Top toys and tech, decorations and boardgames for a series of on-air Christmas gift guides.
– Finds for foodies, yoga-lovers, outdoorsy people, hikers and sports fans who’d rather watch from home and stay sitting down, thank you.
– Must-have hair products and treatments for shiny blinged-out tresses.
– The best artificial trees, mirror balls and special selection spirit gift packs.

Advice for making Christmas 2020 the best ever
– Ethical Christmas ideas (reducing waste while ripping open reindeer-themed wrapping, alternatives to plastic decorations, where to regift unwanted presents).
– Catering for Christmas in Care homes – how to safely cater for the elderly and the vulnerable concerning dietary needs, food intolerance, religious and cultural requirements and entertaining while distancing.
– Recommendations from celebrity chefs on how to get the perfect glazed ham and potatoes for Christmas Day.

Snazzy spokespeople or comment
– Women over the age of 35 who are planning to volunteer for charity over Christmas in soup kitchens, on the streets or with animals.
– Experts to comment on the best time to do your Christmas food shop (early and easy vs. last minute deal hunting).
– Real-life stories with a Christmas hook (cheaters, false friends, shenanigans with saving companies, etc.)
– Christmas cooking and eating anecdotes from British chefs and cooks.
– Advice on the best kinds of kitchen-diner set ups for hosting festive dinners, including entertainment zones, storage, surfaces and finding enough seating for extra uncles and grandmas.

Do you have Christmas-related products ready for review, access to celebrity spokespeople, expert commentary or clients with real-life stories involving Santa to share? Get journalist requests and coverage opportunities delivered straight to your inbox with the ResponseSource Journalist Enquiry Service.