At the last election Conservative politicians often accused Labour of resorting to “the magic money tree” to fund its promises. Even though Labour’s manifesto had details of how it would raise money for these commitments, the jibe was intended to show that Labour’s commitment to fiscal rigour was bogus, and that the party just expected to conjure money out of thin air.
That was two years ago. Now the Conservative party is holding a leadership contest and the candidates seem to have discovered not just the magic money tree, not just a Heseltine-sized magic money arboretum, but an entire magic money Amazon rain forest. We’ve got two good examples this morning.
- Jeremy Hunt, the underdog in the contest, is proposing a £6bn fund to protect farmers and the fishing industry from a no-deal Brexit, as part of a 10-point plan to prepare the UK for possibly leaving the EU at the end of October without an agreement. He will set out details in a speech this morning and, although he is still stressing that he would prefer to get a Brexit deal with the EU, this seem seems to be further evidence that he is engaged in what the Sunday Times splash headline yesterday called a “hard Brexit bidding war” with Boris Johnson. Hunt’s plan also includes setting up a no-deal cabinet task force, establishing a national logistics committee to produce a plan to keep goods moving in the event of no-deal and holding a no-deal budget, which would among other things cut corporation tax to 12.5%. Last week the Institute for Fiscal Studies said this tax would cost £13bn a year. (By comparison, abolishing tuition fees for new students, Labour’s headline spending pledge at the last election, came in with a price tag of just £9.5bn, which Labour costed through tax increases for high earners.) Commenting on his plan, Hunt is due to say in his speech:
If you’re a sheep farmer in Shropshire or a fishermen in Peterhead I have a simple message for you. I know you face uncertainty if we have to leave the EU without a deal.
I will mitigate the impact of no deal Brexit on you and step in to help smooth those short term difficulties. If we could do it for the bankers in the financial crisis, we can do it for our fisherman, farmers and small businesses now …
I have made it clear that my preference is for us to leave with a new deal. One that removes the backstop and ensures we have a fully independent trade policy. And if the commission engages in good faith I believe this is possible.
But Britain deserves a leader with the courage to not just tell the European commission he will walk away. But to show them he is willing and able to do so.
Because in the end, without those abilities, without that determination, and without that plan, it is just a wing and a prayer.
Now that there’s money available, we need to show the public sector some love — they do a brilliant job for the country. People in the public sector need to be properly rewarded for the brilliant work they do. Higher pay, not higher taxes, means a pay rise for everyone, including in the public sector.
It is important to stress that this is not the way politicians normally announce policy, and the effect of using proxies to make policy announcements on his behalf is to give Johnson what the Americans call “plausible deniability”; if questioned on this “promise” in the Commons in six months’ time, perhaps after the public sector pay rise has not materialised, Johnson can always say he never made this commitment himself.
Hancock has also been giving interviews this morning. His Today programme one was not his finest hour. More on that soon.
When challenged about how they would fund their spending plans, Johnson and Hunt have both pointed out that the Treasury has “headroom” available for extra spending (which is true, but only up to a point) and that the country can afford to borrow more (which is also true, but counter to the main thrust of Conservative thinking on the economy for the whole of the last nine years). Generally, thought, Johnson and Hunt have not dwelled much on questions about how they will fund their promises, and at Conservative party hustings they have not been challenged much on this point either.
Here is the agenda for the day.
11am: Jeremy Hunt delivers a speech on Brexit.
After 3.30pm: MPs begin a two-day debate on the estimates. Backbenchers are trying to force a vote on amendments that cut off government funding if a new PM tried to take the UK out of the EU without a deal.
As usual, I will be covering breaking political news as it happens, as well as bringing you the best reaction, comment and analysis from the web, although I will be focusing mostly on the Tory leadership contest. I plan to publish a summary at lunchtime and then another when I finish.
You can read all the latest Guardian politics articles here. Here is the Politico Europe roundup of this morning’s political news. And here is the PoliticsHome list of today’s top 10 must-reads.
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