Rishi Sunak has declared in effect that he will not serve in Liz Truss’s cabinet if she wins. There has been speculation that she might offer him the post of health secretary. But when Vanessa Feltz asked him if he would take that job if Truss offered it to him, he laughed heartily. He said:
I’m not focused on all that, and I doubt Liz is, to be honest.
In fact, according to Tim Shipman and Harry Yorke’s report in the Sunday Times yesterday, the Truss camp have held at least three meetings already on who will serve in her cabinet.
Sunak went on:
I’m focused on just getting out and about, trying to win this race at the moment. I’m not thinking about jobs for me or for anyone else.
And one thing I have reflected on a bit is, being in the government, in cabinet, over the last couple of years, you really need to agree with the big things, because it’s tough, as I found, when you don’t. And I wouldn’t want to end up in a situation like that again.
Sunak was referring to his disagreements with Boris Johnson on economic policy. But they were relatively minor compared to the chasm between Sunak and Truss on tax cuts. He has rubbished her plans as “fairytale” economics, while she thinks his approach has failed to deliver growth.
In the light of Sunak’s comment, it is now almost impossible to see him accepting any position in a Truss government.
Feltz plays Blinding Lights by The Weeknd. Sunak chose it. He says it was a soundtrack he played a lot during the pandemic.
Q: People are already cutting their energy use, or going without food to save money. What can you say to people like that? And can you understand what they are going through?
Sunak accepts that is not his situation. He says he was not “born this way” (ie: wealthy). He worked and reached this point, he says.
But he says people probably first became aware of him during the pandemic. He was not at risk of losing his job. But he came up with a plan to get the country through this. There was no textbook for that. He says he is “broadly proud” of what he did. People still appreciate what he did.
He claims Liz Truss has ruled out direct support for people.
(In fact, although Truss did at one point rule out “handouts”, now she is making it clear that she would implement an energy support package that is likely to involve payments for people who need support with bills.)
Sunak says Liz Truss’s economic plans would make the country’s economic situation worse.
Her tax cuts would not help poor people and pensioners, he claims. She wants to have her cake and eat it.
Q: But Boris Johnson wanted to have his cake and eat it too, and that worked for him. You say you would rather be honest and lose than not be honest and win. That is not savvy, is it?
Sunak says he is being honest. If people think honesty is important, then they will back him, he says.
He says he will not change what he is saying to try to win.
Asked about the revelations about his wife being a non-dom, Sunak says he learned from the experience. He claims the experience has made him better able to lead the country.
Q: Didn’t you think how the decision to claim non-dom status would look when it became public?
Sunak says he accepts that is an issue. But generally spouses are not dragged into the political sphere, he says. He says broadly that is a good thing. Generally we don’t know much about ministers’ husbands and wives.
He accepts that, in very senior jobs, the situation is different.
Having learned from the experience, he is better qualified to be PM, he claims.
Q: What has made people misjudge you? If you can identify that, you can fix it.
Sunak says he came top of the ballot of MPs at every stage.
And people in the country feel he is someone who has delivered, he says.
Some Tories are upset that he resigned, he says. “That’s understandable, that’s fair enough.”
He says he was proud to serve with Boris Johnson. But he and Johnson were “on a different page” on the economy. On top of that, “there was an ethical issue … which I found hard to defend”.
Rishi Sunak, the Tory leadership contender and former chancellor, is being interviewed by Vanessa Feltz, who is presenting the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2. She says Liz Truss has also been invited on for an interview but has declined.
Feltz puts it to Sunak that his leadership campaign is going badly.
Sunak says he is getting a good reception everywhere. People appreciate what he did during the pandemic, he says.
Boris Johnson is in the final fortnight of his premiership and, according to Downing Street, later today he will be meeting the chief executive, Ilan Gur, and the chair, Matt Clifford, of the new UK Advanced Research and Invention Agency (Aria). This is the body set up to fund high-risk scientific research. It is an odd choice for a legacy visit because Aria was only established because of pressure from Dominic Cummings, who was Johnson’s chief adviser in No 10 until he left to become one of the most vocal, and effective, campaigners for Johnson’s removal from office.
Mel Stride, the Conservative MP who chairs the Commons Treasury committee and a Rishi Sunak supporter in the leadership contest, told LBC this morning that Liz Truss would be “flying blind” if she held an emergency budget in September without updated forecasts from the OBR. (See 9.27am.) He said:
Liz is coming forward with an emergency budget shortly after September 5th. And there’ll be a number of very significant tax measures within that, plus some spending measures as well as yet undetermined. And at the moment the Liz camp are saying that there will not be any OBR forecasts produced at that time. And that’s like flying blind. It means that you do all these dramatic things on tax etc but you don’t actually know what the independent forecaster believes the impact will be on the public finances. And I think that’s quite a serious situation were that to come about.
Stride also said he thought a recession was “highly likely”. Truss has stressed that a recession is not inevitable, and she has dismissed talk of one happening as defeatist.
Keir Starmer sidestepped questions about whether Labour MPs should be joining striking workers on picket lines in an interview during his visit to Walthamstow in London this morning.
The issue has divided the party for weeks. Starmer argues that, as a prospective government, Labour should be committed to resolving disputes, not just siding with workers who go on strike, and when the current round of train strikes started he told shadow ministers and ministerial aides not to join picket lines. But some Labour MPs have ignored this order and the leftwing group Momentum is trying to force a vote on the issue at party conference.
Starmer accused the government of doing “absolutely nothing” to resolve industrial disputes, including the one involving criminal barristers who have just voted to take indefinite strike action. He said:
I quite understand, whether it’s barristers or others, why people and how people are struggling to make ends meet. What I want to see is the government recognise that …
I want to see the government step in and actually help resolve these issues, instead of that we’ve got a government doing absolutely nothing.
Asked whether Labour MPs should be allowed to join picket lines, Starmer twice sidestepped the question. The second time he replied:
My focus of attack is on the government for not doing anything to resolve these issues.
This morning Momentum posted a message on Twitter praising Tan Dhesi, a shadow transport minister, for being photographed with RMT members on a picket line on Saturday.
Keir Starmer has said that a Labour government would make a massive home insulation programme a “national mission”. Speaking at a building site in Walthamstow, he said insulating homes offered a “longer-term answer” to the energy bills crisis. He said:
We the Labour party have said we should freeze energy prices, not let those bills go up, and pay for that in part with windfall tax on oil and gas companies, who are making huge, huge profits.
Alongside that, we need a national mission to insulate homes, that’s a longer-term issue. We called for that a year ago now, if the government had done that, we’d have the best part of 2m homes insulated.
Proper insulation could save a household more than £1,000 a year in energy costs, he said.
Liz Truss would use an emergency budget in September to announce (among other things) how her government would help people with rising energy bills. On Friday Ofgem will announce what the energy price cap will be from October, and on the Today programme this morning an interview with three energy company bosses illustrated quite how dire the outlook is.
Greg Jackson, the founder and chief executive of Octopus Energy, said the government had to help consumers because it was impossible for householders to meet rising costs on their own. He told the programme:
The big thing here is we need more help for customers from the government. The reality is customers are being asked to pay the price of gas, which is weaponised by Putin, and they shouldn’t be expected to do that alone.
Let’s put it in perspective. The UK’s energy bill is going from maybe £15bn in a normal year to £75bn pounds this year. And that’s the equivalent of maybe 9p or more on the base rate of income tax. No government would announce that, and in the same way, no government should let this go to customers.
Referring to the rise in wholesale gas prices, he went on: “Look, to put that in perspective, if this was beer, we’re talking about the wholesale price being £25 a pint.”
Dale Vince, founder of Ecotricity, also said the government had to step in. He told the programme:
This problem predates the Ukrainian war. We have a systemic failure in the energy market. The government does need to intervene. We shouldn’t expect customers to pay the cost of this failure and the Ukraine war …
The government simply needs to step in and pick up this cost like they did in the pandemic. We need £40bn to get through this winter. That’s 10% of what was spent during the pandemic and that’s the only thing that will really sort this problem out.
Jackson said one option for the government would be to freeze the energy price cap, and use a tariff deficit fund to help energy companies cover their costs. Vince also expressed support for the idea, and Bill Bullen, chief executive of Utilita, said the Conservative party should bring forward the end date for the leadership contest so that the new leader could cancel the rise in the energy price cap being announced on Friday. He told the programme:
All through the summer, we’ve been hearing about customers in distress, customers who are worried that they’re not able to heat their homes over this coming winter. That’s why we’re saying to the government, you’ve got to take this decision to freeze prices at their current level right now.
This cannot wait until the 5th or 6th of September. The Conservative party needs to sort themselves out, decide who the leader is going to be this week, so that the Ofgem announcement on the 26th [the rise in the price cap for October] doesn’t have to happen. That is such an imperative.
Frankly, for the sake of the nation, I think the Conservative party need to sort their leadership contest out quicker than they’re currently planning to do it. Then at least we will take away the stress of this winter coming up for tens of millions of households.
Here is the chart in the press release from the Rishi Sunak campaign released overnight explaining why it is saying Liz Truss is promising unfunded tax cuts and spending commitments worth £61.5bn. (See 9.27am.)
The rightwing Guido Fawkes website argues that, by opposing proposed tax cuts in this way, the Sunak camp is sounding like Gordon Brown and that what it is really doing is inadvertently promoting Truss’s plan to save taxpayers more than £48bn.
Criminal barristers in England and Wales have voted to go on indefinite strike from next month, the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) has said.
And Ione Wells from the BBC says that OBC sources are disputing suggestions from the Truss camp that it would not have time to produce a new fiscal and economic forecast ahead of the emergency budget that Liz Truss is planning.
Chris Giles, the economics editor of the Financial Times, says that Rishi Sunak announced plenty of emergency bailout packages (over Covid and energy bills) when he was chancellor without getting a new economic forecast from the Office for Budget Responsibility each time. But if Liz Truss were to try to stop the OBR producing an independent fiscal and economic forecast twice a year, that would be worrying, he says.
Good morning. Two weeks today the Conservative party will announce the winner of the leadership contest, and the person who will become the next prime minister, and it seems ever more certain that it will be Liz Truss. But, as a Truss premiership seems increasingly likely, scrutiny of her plans only intensifies, and this morning the Rishi Sunak camp have deployed a former Margaret Thatcher chief policy adviser to support its (very familiar) claim that her plans do not add up.
Brian Griffiths – now Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach – was head of the policy unit at No 10 between 1985 and 1990. He is quoted in a press release from the Sunak camp responding to a report saying that “Whitehall officials who have been in contact with Team Truss say that she is not planning to ask the independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) to do a formal forecast of the public finances” ahead of the emergency budget she is planning, provisionally scheduled for 21 September.
Commenting on this, Griffiths said:
The Bank of England’s devastating outlook for the economy contrasts with Liz’s optimism – for her to now prevent the OBR doing proper analysis of the facts would seem to indicate complete loss of confidence in the policy she is advocating.
The press briefing from the Sunak camp also says that Truss has already promised unfunded tax cuts and spending commitments worth £61.5bn. Referring to an article by Kwasi Kwarteng in the Mail on Sunday yesterday, in which Kwarteng (a Truss ally who is expected to be the next chancellor) said Truss would provide more help for people with the cost of living, a Sunak spokesperson said Truss wanted to avoid OBR scrutiny because she knew it would be impossible to deliver tax cuts and help with energy bills on the scale promised without “increasing borrowing to historic and dangerous levels, putting the public finances in serious jeopardy and plunging the economy into an inflation spiral”.
In response a Truss spokesperson said her plans were “sensible” and that: “We need a new approach to the economy, we need to challenge the failing economic orthodoxy and we need to deliver the necessary reform to tackle inflation and achieve sustainable growth.”
I will post more on this row shortly. Matt Hancock, the former health secretary and a Sunak supporter, was asked about in in a Today interview.
Boris Johnson is back from holiday this week and there are two items in the diary today that might generate interest.
11.30am: Downing Street holds its weekly lobby briefing.
After 12pm: Rishi Sunak is interviewed by Vanessa Feltz on Radio 2.
Keir Starmer is also on a visit in London this morning, where he will be promoting Labour’s plans for a massive home insulation programme.
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