Tories at war over the economy

Liz Truss might have been cast to political oblivion, but she was the breed of prime minister the Tory right had long yearned for, and her spectacular downfall has not allayed the thirst for true-blue tax cuts.

Right-Wing Watch

The economy is in crisis, the Tories in meltdown, was the story of Britain a little over a month ago when the Truss-Kwarteng ‘growth plan’ managed to strangle the economy almost overnight and ignite a series of humiliating U-turns, the defenestration of the chancellor and the naming of a new one.

Liz Truss might have been cast to political oblivion, but she was the breed of prime minister the Tory right had long yearned for, and her spectacular downfall has not allayed the thirst for true-blue tax cuts. Far from disbanding and hiding under a rock, ‘Trussites’ seem to have been emboldened.

Jeremy Hunt’s austerity-laden Autumn Statement may have earned modest reaction from the markets compared to the previous government’s economy-crashing mini-budget, but it has not saved his party from disunion and warfare. In fact, just weeks after team Sunak-Hunt entered No 10 and 11, Tories seem more divided than ever, and the knives are out over the chancellor’s fiscal plan.

Hunt’s tax rises were ‘socialist measures’ cried Esther McVey, former work and pensions secretary, MP for Tatton and ardent Brexiteer.

“Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement did nothing to carve out a new conservative era of growth, less state intervention and people holding on to their hard-earned money. Quite the reverse: it was Gordon Brown-esque in its devotion to a socialist paradise of tax and spend,” McVey wrote in ConservativeHome.

Sharing McVey’s contempt for the statement are fellow right-wingers John Redwood, a supporter of Truss, and Richard Drax, a former cabinet minister.

Redwood said the chancellor should have considered “popular spending cuts,” such as “ending the hotel bills for illegal migrants,” and axing the £11bn to the Bank of England to deal with bond market turmoil.

According to Drax, Hunt’s tax rises on workers and businesses, “risks stifling the growth and productivity that he [Hunt] and I both want, and that would counter the recession we are now in.”

Former business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg accused the chancellor of taking the “easy option” in the Autumn Statement rather than bearing down harder on public spending.

He argued the country needed lower taxes to drive up growth after Hunt acknowledged that the UK was already in recession.

Tory fury over ‘Swiss-style’ Brexit deal

In an especially bitter pill for Brexiteer Tories to swallow, were reports suggesting the government is considering a Swiss-style Brexit approach to remove barriers to trade. Jeremy Hunt was blamed as the source of the report in the Sunday Times that senior government figures were working towards regaining access to the single market. The blame was pinned on Hunt because the story had emerged following his public comments that Boris Johnson’s trade deal had created trade barriers with the EU.

Brexiteer Tory MPs went into meltdown, saying the Conservative Party ‘wouldn’t wear it’ and such a move could amount to a ‘betrayal’ of the freedoms they say were won following the referendum result. Among the critics was, of course, Jacob Rees-Mogg who said the Tories are a ‘Brexit party’ and, if they agreed to ‘unfettered’ trade with the EU, it would risk becoming a ‘non-Brexit party.’  
Jeremy Hunt has failed to deny he was the source behind the claim that the UK will seek a ‘Swiss-style’ deal to improve the Brexit agreement but insists ‘I do not support, I have never contemplated’ tearing up Boris Johnson’s threadbare deal.

Meanwhile, eyeing up brewing Tory disunity, Richard Tice, leader of the right-wing populist party Reform UK, has been targeting potential Tory defectors by sending mailouts to Tory councillors in a bid to get them to jump ship amid the turmoil. Trice didn’t hold back in his reaction to the budget, saying:

“Well there you have it, the worst budget in our lifetimes. Jeremy Hunt obsessed with making us all poorer by raising taxes unnecessarily.”

The neoliberal lobbyists that Liz Truss was in league with and who cheered on the disastrous mini-budget, have, unsurprisingly, also given Hunt’s Autumn Statement a pounding.

At the helm of the right-wing think-tank disdain towards the statement is, you guessed it, Mark Littlewood, director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), which incidentally, was left ‘distraught’ after Truss abandoned the mini-budget.

Describing the statement as a ‘recipe for managed decline, Littlewood said:

Jeremy Hunt is right to emphasise the need to bring down our debt burden and slow down the growth in government spending. But the consequence of considerable tax hikes could be a deeper and longer economic downturn – ultimately resulting in less taxpayer revenue over the long-term. The chancellor has chosen to protect pensioners and those on welfare, but ordinary workers have been clobbered.”

John O’Connell, chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, who hailed Truss’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference as resetting, reaffirming and reassuring the Party, criticised Hunt’s plans as looking set to “prolong the crippling cost of government crisis.”

“Taxpayers will take a kicking over the coming years to pay for a raft of spending increases, with most tough decisions seemingly kicked into the long grass. The government should have set out how they will get costs under control, not compounded the misery of sky-high inflation with tax hikes on working families,” said O’Connell.

Away from the tax cut craving Trussite camp, wider reaction to the Autumn Statement has also been disparaging. Brits have “just got poorer” and those on middle incomes are “set for a shock,” said Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

At the centre of the panic is chancellor’s lowering of the top tax rate threshold. From next April, anyone earning over £125,000 – down from the current £150,000 threshold – will have to pay the 45 percent tax rate, marking a repudiation of Truss-Kwarteng’s scrapping of the 45 percent income tax band.

Forgive me if I’m mistaken, but if you’re earning £150k a year, you are barely going to notice having to pay an additional £1,243 a year in tax

Despite the government’s cries that the latest round of spending cuts and tax rises – amounting to £55bn – does not mark a return to austerity, it is one of the most austere budgets in recent history. And, as we have seen with 12 years of Tory-imposed austerity, the most vulnerable in the country will pay the price.

Take fuel poverty. Hunt’s decision to raise the energy price cap from next April is likely to see the number of households in fuel poverty increase from the current figure of 7 million to 8.6 million from April.

“The chancellor could have raised all the money required to save the public from fuel poverty this winter through a more comprehensive Windfall Tax. Instead, he has chosen to protect the profits of oil and gas firms over protecting people’s lives,” said Simon Francis, co-ordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition.

Ignoring pleas from charities, campaigners and parents, Hunt chose not to extend Free School Meals to 800,000 children living in poverty and whose families are in receipt of Universal Credit. Meanwhile, the surcharge on the profits of banks will be cut from 8 percent to 3 percent, bringing more than a billion pounds in tax savings for banks every year.

So much for compassionate Conservatism.

Then there is the controversial non-dom status loophole. Once held by Rishi Sunak’s wife, it enables wealthy UK residents not to pay tax on their overseas income. Hunt defended resisting moves to force the super-rich who live in Britain but pay no tax on their offshore income to shoulder more financial burden. Labour has repeatedly called for the loophole to be abolished.

Following the grilling by MPs over the Autumn Statement, Hunt has, reportedly, ordered Treasury officials to look into how much could be raised by ending the non-dom tax loophole on the super-rich.  

‘Austerity is a political choice’

As Hunt faces criticism from within his own party, where factions continue to fester, Labour lambasted the Autumn Statement, saying Hunt has “picked the pockets” of the entire country with “stealth taxes.”

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves branded Hunt’s tax rises and spending curbs “an invoice for the economic carnage” created by Liz Truss’s mini budget.

Talking on the BBC’s Politics Live show, Labour MP Richard Burgon put forward a series of wealth taxes, which, if implemented, would mean no cuts would be necessary. Burgon explained in just 20 seconds how the government can raise taxes on the richest instead.

“End non-dom status – £3bn. Annual 1% tax on wealth over £5 million – £10 billion. 45p income tax rate over £80,000 and a 50p rate for income over £125,000 – £6 billion. And finally, if you equalise dividends and capital gains tax with income tax rates that would raise £21 billion. Those measures I just read would raise £40 billion, which is exactly the amount of money the government is saying it needs to cut. The reason that we’ve got this is because we’ve got a prime minister and a government on the side of the super-rich not on the side of the majority. It’s a political choice that they’re making,” said Burgon.

The slightly higher tax rate for people on more than £125,000 a year rather than £150,000 is a tiny move. The bigger decision is the one to freeze the personal allowance and income tax thresholds until 2028. That will result in a big hit on workers’ wages amid a backdrop of soaring food bills and council tax, increased mortgages and rent, and eye-watering high energy bills, as real wages plummet.

At a time when NHS workers, cleaners, delivery drivers and other essential, low-paid workers are queuing at foodbanks, the chancellor is sticking with ending the limit on bankers’ bonuses.

For once, the left and the right seem to agree – Hunt delivered a ‘brutal budget’. For the Trussite right-wingers, the brutality lies in its tax raising. For those on the left, it lies within its assault on the poor and the vulnerable.

Either way, warring Tories know, as a pollster warned last week, the Autumn Statement leaves them staring down a barrel of election defeat.

Rishi Sunak was meant to heal party divisions. Instead, they’re getting worse.

Right-wing media watch – Tory press goes all guns blazing on Autumn Statement

But then with their own traditionally supportive press furiously lashing out at them, whipping up furore over economic policies, deepening Tory in-fighting hardly comes as a surprise.

Holding no prisoners is the Truss-loving Express, which was quick to report the dissatisfaction over Hunt’s fiscal plan among many Tories.

“One Tory backbencher summed up the feelings of many of his colleagues when he rushed from the Commons chamber after hearing what his Chancellor had to say. “Apparently, I was elected as a Conservative MP to support a socialist government. Who knew?” he said with more than a hint of dark humour,” wrote the newspaper’s political editor. He added that as Hunt ‘piled on the misery’, Conservative MPs ‘must have been calculating how much this was going to impact their core voters.’

‘Tories soak the strivers’ splashed the Daily Mail, insisting that the middle class are ‘plundered to fund welfare and pensions’, as ‘taxes soar to highest since war in £25bn raid.’ In a scathing attack, the Mail, which is keenly pawed over by many a Tory strategist, said Hunt had defied the Tories’
“fundamental principles” and had shown a “grotesque overreaction” to the economic slump and inflation.

‘Tax hell’

The Sun was none too happy either.’ ‘Tax Hell’ was its summary following the Autumn Statement. The editorial said the statement was “some of the foulest medicine ever dished up by a Tory chancellor,” adding: “We just pray it doesn’t kill the patient.” Pointing to the country being set for the highest tax burden in its history, the newspaper said it feared Hunt’s announcement, “could crush growth and gift investment, jobs and skilled high-flyers to lower-tax competitors”.

In what is almost caricature piece, the same newspaper says it knows of ‘no meaner or pettier tax than the Budget’s extra levy on van drivers.’ The story refers to the ‘Transit Tax’, which according to the Sun is “doubtless the bright idea of a Treasury official who has never had a job in the real world.’ The paper claims that it is joining Tory MPs in demanding Hunt axes the ‘Transit Tax’ hikes on van drivers that were ‘buried in last week’s Autumn Statement.’

While the Express expressed some positivity, declaring victory for its campaign to get the income of pensioners boosted with pensions being increased in line with inflation, the welfare benefits’ increase was definitely beyond the pale. The Telegraph could not resist reporting about economists labelling the Autumn Statement as ‘George Osborne rhetoric and Gordon Brown policy’ in an editorial that says the ‘welfare bill is to rise by almost £90bn after Jeremy Hunt shielded benefit claimants and pensioners from soaring inflation with a raid on workers.’

But perhaps the most damning of the lot, was the comment of Tim Montgomerie, founder of the ConservativeHome website, who tweeted: “I certainly won’t be voting Conservative at the next election.”

Though in a rare moment of national media consensus, reports contending that it will be Middle Englanders’ who will feel the biggest squeeze from the Autumn Budget, were cited, not just in the Tory press, but in the non-Conservative media too.  ‘Brits ‘just got a lot poorer’ with Middle England ‘set for a shock’ was the Labour-supporting Mirror’s headline the day after the statement. Even the liberal media seemed to  bark up the same tree, with the Guardian talking of how the Autumn Statement brought back the ‘squeezed middle.’

Jeremy Hunt may have avoided the financial meltdown of his predecessor, but his austere Autumn Statement, labelled by right-wing Tories and their ruthless lapdog press as ‘diehard socialist’ tax rises, has paved the way yet more in-fighting and warfare.

I mean, it really is quite something when The Telegraphruns a headline suggesting the Tories could be ‘falling apart.’

Poles apart from the integrity, unity and normality Rishi Sunak was supposed to restore.

Woke bashing of the week – Right wingers lay into ‘woke’ Gareth Southgate

As the controversial World Cup in Qatar got underway, the woke-bashing crew came out in force, railing against Gareth Southgate and the lads.

The assault against the England boss and ‘wokeness’ has been driven, of course, by Nigel Farage, who in 2021 said he had quit politics to ‘battle the woke agenda.’

Teaming up with Farage during an interview on GB News, Matt Le Tissier, former professional footballer, and ex Sky Sports pundit, had a dig at Southgate.

The pair couldn’t resist bringing up the ‘W’ word in a derogatory way. Farage asked Le Tissier about his outstanding penalty record, in which he converted 47 out of 48 penalties when playing for Southampton.

“I have on occasions in the past approaching World Cups and European Championships offered my services to go and coach the players, if they want some advice on taking penalties,” said Le Tissier, before being cut in by Farage who said: “Mr Southgate, are you listening?”

Le Tissier then replied, much to the delight of the baying audience: “To be fair, I mean, there were probably other managers that may have been more likely to listen than the woke Mr Southgate.”

Amid the rapturous applause, Farage chimed in: ““Gosh! I haven’t even got him on to Gary Lineker yet!”

In the same interview, Le Tissier played downed England’s hopes of winning the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

The woke-bashing chat was predictably relished by the Daily Mail, with a report that hardly disagreed or questioned the former professional footballer’s comments. ‘Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier has laid into ‘woke’ boss Gareth Southgate,’ wrote the right-wing newspaper.  

Like Farage, ‘Le Tiss’ – as he became widely known – is no stranger to spouting controversial nonsense aimed at getting a reaction. In April, he quit as an ambassador at Southampton in the wake of making eyebrow-raising remarks about the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The outspoken former footballer claimed Covid patients gasping for breath were ‘actors,’ PCR tests were the ‘biggest fraud ever perpetrated on mankind,’ and images of destruction Ukraine are ‘falsified.’

He has also taken aim at Gary Lineker, who, like Southgate, he has labelled ‘woke.’

It comes as little surprise that Le Tissier would chum up with Nigel Farage to disparage individuals they deem woke.

The former UKIP leader has been drivelling on about Southgate’s purported political allegiances for some time. In June 2021, when England players took the knee as an anti-racism gesture during the Euro 2020 tournament, Farage tweeted:

“Gareth Southgate is out of touch with England fans. They have a right to boo when players take the knee for Marxist BLM. Let’s keep politics out of football this summer.”

At the time, TalkTV presenter Kevin O’Sullivan joined in the slew of right-wing commentators attempting to stir up hostility towards Southgate and his team. “Woke manager Gareth Southgate: good at getting the England team to grovel to Black Lives Matter. Not so good at getting them to play decent football,” O’Sullivan tweeted.

Unsurprisingly, Dan Wootton, an outspoken critic of ‘wokeness’, joined in the Southgate and England team bashing.

Incensed by England taking the knee before their World Cup opener against Iran, the Mail columnist took aim at the FA, Harry Kane and Southgate’s ‘failed rainbow flag stunt’ which he claims ‘proves woke virtue signalling while playing in evil Qatar helps nobody.’

England must, according to the disillusioned Wootton, ‘now stop taking the knee and focus on the football.’

Fortunately, the ardent anti-wokesters don’t seem to be getting very far with their obsessive campaigning to create some kind of moral panic against so-called wokeness within England’s football team.

Kane and the lads hammered Iran in their World Cup opener, drew with the United States and currently top the group. 

AND they took the knee.

The anti-woke brigade must be having kittens!

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is author of Right-Wing Watch

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