Labour: Hunt’s ‘insulting’ comments on economy show he is ‘out of touch’

Labour have suggested Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s comments on the UK entering technical recession meant he and his party were “out of touch” with voters, and demanded a general election.

In comments after figures showed the UK economy was in recession, Hunt told broadcasters:

We always expected growth to be weaker while we prioritised tackling inflation, that means higher interest rates, and that is the right thing to do because you can’t have long-term healthy growth with high inflation.

But also for families when there is a cost-of-living crisis, when the cost of their weekly shop is going up, their energy bills are much higher, it is the right thing to do.

The underlying picture here is an economy that is more resilient than most people predicted, inflation is coming down, real wages have been going up now for six months.

If we stick to our guns, independent forecasters say that by the early summer we could start to see interest rates falling and that will be a very important relief for families with mortgages.

Hunt also said that “there are signs the British economy is turning a corner”, claiming:

Forecasters agree that growth will strengthen over the next few years, wages are rising faster than prices, mortgage rates are down and unemployment remains low. Although times are still tough for many families, we must stick to the plan – cutting taxes on work and business to build a stronger economy.

In his January 2023 pledges, prime minister Rishi Sunak promised “We will grow the economy, creating better-paid jobs and opportunity right across the country.”

A spokesperson for the Labour Party said: “Jeremy Hunt’s comments are as insulting as they are out of touch. The Conservatives’ failure to take any responsibility for Rishi’s recession show why we need an election.”

Key events

Anna Isaac and Alex Lawson report for the Guardian

Britain’s public spending watchdog has launched an investigation into risks and costs at Sellafield, the UK’s biggest nuclear waste dump.

The National Audit Office (NAO), which scrutinises the use of public funds, has announced it will examine whether the Cumbria site is managing and prioritising the risks and hazards of the site effectively as well as deploying resources appropriately and continuing to improve its project management.

The findings of its investigation are expected to be published this autumn.

Cameron: I am not lecturing or telling our ‘American friends’ what to do over Ukraine funding

Foreign secretary David Cameron has said he is not lecturing or telling “American friends” what to do over funding to Ukraine.

Speaking in Poland, Cameron said a US congress vote was “crucial” to helping Ukraine succeed in the war:

We really do want to see Congress pass that money to support Ukraine economically, but crucially militarily in the months ahead. We have to do everything we can to make sure that Ukraine can succeed in this year and beyond.

We must not let Putin think he can out-wait us or last us out, and that’s why this vote in Congress is so crucial. And I say this as someone who is not wanting in any way to lecture American friends, or tell American friends what to do.

I say it as someone who has a deep and abiding love of the United States – of their democracy, of their belief in freedom – but as someone who really believes in the importance of our alliance.

Former prime minister David Cameron attends a joint press conference with the Polish minister of foreign affairs in Warsaw. Photograph: Piotr Molęcki/East News/REX/Shutterstock

The comments come just a day after Republican right-winger Marjorie Taylor Greene told Cameron to “look after his own country” and “kiss my ass” after the former prime minister called on Washington to vote through a package of aid for Ukraine for the sake of global security.

While making a media appearance this morning about the rebranding of six London Overground lines with new names – see this story here from my colleague Gwyn Topham – London mayor Sadiq Khan was asked about the suspension of two prospective Labour candidates over accusations of antisemitism.

He gave a lengthy and thoughtful response to Sky News on the issue, saying:

What you have to bear in mind is the sensitivities of how people across the country are feeling, those from a Jewish background, those from a Muslim background. Language matters.

And when I speak to Jewish Londoners, the way they receive some of these things, they feel scared. They feel frightened. And sometimes this language can be used as a code and I think we’ve got to be cognizant of that, particularly if you aspire to be a member of parliament, or you’ve been a member of parliament.

So I’m only going on what I’ve read in the media, so I’ve not seen the transcripts. But as far as I’m concerned, that sort of language isn’t acceptable, and it certainly shouldn’t be acceptable in a party like mine.

At the end of the interview he then went on to say that he was proud to be in a party that was anti-racist and that was tackling antisemitism. However he stumbled over his words and misspoke, saying the party was “proud to be both anti racist, but also antisemitic”. He immediately corrected himself.

About ninety minutes ago the Conservative party issued on social media a clipped four second excerpt of the interview in which he just says the words “a party like mine that is proud to be anti-racist and antisemitic” with a caption claiming “Sadiq Khan says the quiet part out loud”, having edited off Khan’s final words.

The social media post has been widely criticised as being misleading, with Walthamstow Labour councillor Miriam Mirwitch, who is national secretary of the Jewish Labour Movement, commenting:

Sadiq Khan clearly misspoke and you’ve selectively cut the clip short to misrepresent what he said. Both our mayor and the Labour party are working hard to fight antisemitism. Your cynical political point scoring here will only hurt British Jews like me.

Khan is shortly facing re-election up against a Conservative candidate, Susan Hall, who has been shown to have engaged with Islamophobic tropes about the current mayor on social media.

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Northern Ireland executive agrees pay award for public sector workers

Northern Ireland’s first minister Michelle O’Neill has posted to social media to say that the newly reconvened executive in Stormont has “agreed £688m to deliver a fair pay award for public sector workers.”

The Executive has agreed £688 Million to deliver a fair pay award for public sector workers.

All Ministers will work to ensure it gets into the pockets of workers and families as quickly as possible.

I would like to thank Finance Minister Dr @CArchibald_SF for bringing the…

— Michelle O’Neill (@moneillsf) February 15, 2024

More details soon …

Reeves: ‘Britain remains trapped in a spiral of economic decline’ under Rishi Sunak’s government

Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves has said that today’s figures showing that the economy has gone into recession demonstrate that “Britain remains trapped in a spiral of economic decline” under Rishi Sunak’s government, adding that “we are going backwards” because his economic plan “is not working”.

Speaking at a press conference in central London, Reeves opened her speech by saying:

This is deeply worrying news for families struggling to make ends meet, and for businesses. These are provisional figures, they may change. But it is absolutely clear that Britain remains trapped in a spiral of economic decline.

This isn’t a question of lines on a graph. It’s about the health of our high streets, about growing businesses, secure well paid jobs and money in the pockets of working people.

The British people did not need to see these figures today to tell them that the economy is not working, that we are in the midst of a cost of living crisis, and that they are worse off.

But these numbers shine a spotlight on the scale of that failure.

The confirmation of recession exposes a government and a prime minister completely out of touch with the realities on the ground. A government that for too long has looked on economic failure with complacency, content to be the managers of decline.

Rishi Sunak claims that he has a plan, but the plan is not working. He claims that the economy has turned a corner, but the economy is shrinking. He claims he doesn’t want to take us back to square one. But we are going backwards.

There is a clip of her speaking here, via Sky News:

Yesterday former Labour leader Neil Kinnock endorsed Vaughan Gething to be the next Labour leader in Wales and first minister there. This morning Gething has shared a video of Kinnock’s endorsement.

Neil Kinnock is a giant of our movement.

Few people know so acutely what it takes to lead our party. I’m honoured to have his support.

When your ballot arrives from tomorrow, you have the power to help us build our future, together – for Wales, for Labour, for you.

— Vaughan Gething (@vaughangething) February 15, 2024

Rachel Reeves has said that Labour’s support for tax cuts in the forthcoming March budget is dependent on the state of the nation’s finances at the time.

She told the media at her press conference:

That (support) depends on the state of the public finances and the projections set out by the OBR.

I objected to the increases in National Insurance when Rishi Sunak tried to increase them as chancellor because I thought it was wrong to increase taxes on working people in the middle of a cost of living crisis.

We supported the cuts to National Insurance when the Government finally got around to doing that, but I will never make any commitments either around spending increases or tax cuts without being able to say where the money is going to come from.

A little bit before Rachel Reeves was giving her speech on Labour’s plan for economic growth – this does feel very much like I am doing a parallel business live blog today – Jeremy Hunt was continuing his media round. On GB News he said the UK will have “the most competitive business taxes in the world”.

PA Media quote him saying:

I have not changed my position, our future as a country is to have the most competitive business taxes in the world, and that’s why in the autumn statement we cut corporation tax.”

I’ve never hidden from the fact that I had to increase taxes in my first autumn statement as Chancellor but nor have I ever said anything other than I think the most successful economies in the long run have lighter taxes, and as soon as the chance arose I would start to bring down the tax burden.

Independent forecasters say if we stick to that plan we’ll get inflation right down, interest rates could start to fall in a matter of months and that is the thing that matters most to families.

When they’re making a choice for the future of this country they want to know that they have people who will do the right thing, even if it’s not always the easy thing.

Asked about murmurs this morning from Jeremy Hunt that he was planning to tax cuts which might entail spending cuts on public services, Rachel Reeves says:

I do recognise that our public services are under huge pressure, unlike perhaps the Conservatives do, which is why I’ve said there does need to be an immediate injection of cash into our public services.

Which is why we would end the tax break where non-dom’s don’t pay taxes in the country in which they live, why we would end the tax break where private schools are not paying VAT or business rates, why we would change the rules about how the bonuses of private equity managers are taxed.

And we would use all of that money to fund an immediate of injection of cash into the public services, which are on their knees today. But then we’ve got to have a serious plan to grow the economy

Rachel Reeves says she “rejects entirely” accusations that there is little difference between Labour and Conservative plans on the economy for growth.

She said:

We’ve got a comprehensive plan for growth that has been drawn up with business. Let me just give you a few examples of that. Labour would reform the planning system to get Britain building again. There are at the moment, something like £200bn worth of projects waiting for connections to our grid system, but they are being held back by restrictions in the planning rules.

At the moment ittakes something like two years to build a wind farm, but it can take 13 years to get a connection to the grid because of bureaucracies in the system. We need to turn that around so that we get Britain building again and ensure that that crucial national infrastructure is coming online and we are determined to do that.

She went on to say:

We’ve set out reforms to the apprenticeship levy to turn it into a growth and skills levy, to help businesses to train up the next generation of workers and a modern industrial strategy with strategies already published for life sciences, for financial services, and for automotives, and more of those industrial strategies that have been worked on in conjunction with businesses.

Reeves: Hunt is being ‘dangerous’ and ‘misguided’ in giving a running commentary ahead of March budget

Rachel Reeves has criticised the chancellor Jeremy Hunt for giving a “running commentary” ahead of his March budget, branding his words “dangerous” and “misguided”.

She told the media during a Q&A session after giving a speech on Labour’s economic plans:

I do find it extraordinary that the actual Chancellor of the Exchequer is providing a running commentary on his own budget. Now, I worked at the Bank of England for many years, and I’ve been in politics for a long time. Now, I have never seen anything like it with the chancellor giving a running commentary. It is dangerous and it is very misguided, and I would urge him to stop this because it creates the uncertainty that is that we really don’t need.

Rachel Reeves, shadow chancellor, has said in response to a question about Labour’s plan:

Unlike this prime minister and this chancellor, Kier Starmer and I have got a real plan. A concrete plan for growth. And don’t just take our word for it, take the words of the businesses who have helped us devise these plans, whether it is reform of planning, or of pensions, the national wealth fund and GB energy.

This is all about getting the growth in our economy that we need. The Conservatives have no plan. We have a serious plan that we’ve worked on with business and the green prosperity plan is still there.

A national wealth fund to invest in carbon capture and storage, in green hydrogen, in our steel industry, as well as GB energy with an endowment to invest in nuclear, tidal and floating offshore wind, there’s a plan.

This government don’t have that. A Labour government will have to grow our economy and to secure that growth and investment that we need to turn things round after 14 years of conservative failure.

Rachel Reeves has been giving a speech about Labour’s plan for growth. She has asked whether anything in the country works better than it did 14 years ago. She finished the speech by saying:

Do our hospitals, our schools, our police work better than they did 14 years ago? Frankly, does anything in our country work better than when the Conservatives came to power 14 years ago?

He is further evidence today in black and white. Britain has fallen into recession.

It is time to turn the page on 14 years of Conservative failure. It is time to demand better than managed decline. It is time to start a new chapter for Britain.

She is taking questions now, the first one is from Faisal Islam of the BBC who asked about whether she recognised that it was “a relatively mild recession”, and then about Labour ditching its £28bn green development policy.

Labour have just put out an attack video clip on the prime minister over this morning’s economic news, labelling it “Rishi’s recession”. It features Rishi Sunak yesterday saying “I really believe that the economy has turned a corner” followed by a montage of talking head clips from this morning’s news show analysing the news that the country has fallen into recession.

They aren’t the only people trying to pin the recession personally on the prime minister. Earlier this morning Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said:

Rishi’s recession has savaged the British economy by decimating growth and leaving families to cope with spiralling prices. Years of Conservative chaos and a revolving door of Conservative chancellors has culminated in economic turmoil.

It’s hardworking Brits forced to pick up the tab for this mess, through high food prices, tax hikes and skyrocketing mortgage bills. This year the country will have the chance to kick out this incompetent and out of touch Government once and for all.

The Liberal Democrats were in coalition with the Conservatives from 2010 to 2015. The Conservatives have had five different Chancellors since July 2019.

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Data from the department for energy security and net zero shows that 13% of households in England were in fuel poverty last year. While largely unchanged from 13.1% in 2022, the figure amounts to 3.17 million households.

The figures also reveal that well over a third (36.4%) of English households, some 8.91 million, were forced to spend more than 10% of their income, after housing costs, on energy bills, up from 6.66 million in 2022.

PA Media reports that Simon Francis, co-ordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, said:

The numbers of households paying more than 10% of their income on energy is truly shocking, far exceeding previous estimates. The reality is that household energy debt is now at record levels, millions of people are living in cold, damp homes and children are suffering in mouldy conditions.

With the caveat that the Guardian has not independently verified the timing and location of this photograph, we appear to have our first dog at a polling station social media post from Wellingborough. This is, apparently, Monty.