Tory Conference: Hammond Attacks Corbyn
The chancellor Philip Hammond gave a speech at the Tory Conference today where he attacked Labour as the party of the past, while calling Corbyn a “Marxist” and a “dinosaur.”
His speech was written after the fashion of a lecturer who wants to instruct, while, at the same time, unleashing a ruthless critique on Labour that failed to be constructive and ended up missing the point. As it was noted, to “demolish your opponents, you first have to understand them properly and to describe Labour simply as a ‘party taken hostage by a clique of hard-left extremist infiltrators’ is to miss the fact, even if there has been a leftwing takeover.” While there are many criticisms that can be listed and used against Corbyn’s Labour party, Hammond unfortunately missed these and concentrated on ad hominem attacks. The most unfortunate moment was when Hammond argued that the market economy helped raise living standards, which isn’t the case.
Hammond’s speech was quickly criticised by the opposition, while business leaders remained reserved, calling for changes and more investment, as they praised Hammond’s recognition of free market capitalism.
Political commentators were more critical of Hammond’s speech. At the New Statesman, George Eaton said that the Chancellor’s negative comments about Corbyn made the Tories sound like they were from the past. The “spectre … haunting the Conservatives,” was “the spectre of Jeremy Corbyn.” The speech was “so devoted to Corbyn that it felt like that of an opposition politician.”
Hammond compared Labour’s policies to those of Cuba, Zimbabwe and Venezuela, and warned that the UK could end up like these countries under Corbyn’s policies of nationalisation and tax hikes. Hammond described the Labour conference as a Jurassic Park full of dinosaurs who have had no contact the last 30 years with global economic development.
Yet, when he moved on to talk about the housing crisis or wages, he didn’t shed any more light on ways to tackle the harsh realities. Even when he promised £10bn in funding for Help to Buy—the government’s scheme that boosts your savings—this, according to Eaton, would inflate demand rather than increase supply. While he talked about the slowing of real wages’ growth and the squeeze on living standards, his speech failed to offer solutions.
The New Statesman article pointed out that the Tories needed to “scrutinise” Corbyn rather than “insult” him, and unless they change, “they will struggle to regain their stride.”
Labour and Businesses’ response
Shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, commented on Hammond’s speech, saying that it focussed too much on Labour rather than on Tory policies. He said:
“It was a speech that contained more smears on Labour than Tory policy announcements. But it betrays how fearful the Tories are of the challenge posed by Jeremy Corbyn.
There was nothing of real substance on infrastructure, on tackling the housing crisis, the funding shortfall in our NHS and care system, and nothing at all for hard working families who are struggling to keep up with rising prices.
The chancellor this morning admitted he will borrow £10bn for a housing policy that will only help a few, and which is derided by many of his predecessors even in his own party. Yet he will do nothing for the low paid struggling under the Tories Universal Credit mismanagement, or hard pressed public-sector workers. Real wages are lower today than when the Tories first came to power
On infrastructure spending, he has no plans to end the north-south divide on infrastructure spending. Philip Hammond has announced a mere drop in the ocean compared to what has already been cut with government investment spending £19 billion lower than in 2010. Communities in the north of England will not be fooled when this government plans to invest in transport just one-fifth in the North of what it will spend in London.”
Carolyn Fairbairn, the CBI’s director general, said the speech showed “a government strong on diagnosis, but weak on action”. She said that Brexit uncertainty and dogmatic politics on both the Left and Right parties was a threat to jobs, investment and living standards and that now it was crucial that measures and clear-cut plans were made and followed through. She indicated that, “The solution must be for responsible business and government to grow our way out of austerity. But this can only happen with clarity, unity and action. Today’s speech was only one step in that direction.”
The Institute of Directors’ Stephen Martin was also mildly critical of Hammond’s speech since there was “little red meat” for businesses. “Actions speak louder than words,” he said and went on to advise the chancellor that investment needed to be boosted by individuals and companies. Since, in August, investment was into negative territory, he called the Chancellor to “prioritise tax changes to boost entrepreneurial companies, including raising the annual investment allowance cap to £1m, and relieving restrictions on reliefs for investing in start-ups and growing companies.”
Hammond’s speech might have had little meat and few offerings, but it fed into the anti-Corbyn sentiment within the Tory party. Whether this was negative or not, it nonetheless, served its purpose of perpetuating the belief in Labour’s ancient politics and outdated ideology.