Spring Statement: Rachel Reeves responds to Sunak’s plan
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The Shadow Chancellor made the journey down to Worthing in West Sussex on Thursday as the Labour Party launched its local election campaign in the South East of England. The seaside town, which has returned Conservative MPs to the Commons in every general election since at least 1918, is now a key target for Sir Keir Starmer’s party following success in last year’s local elections and subsequent by-elections.
Ms Reeves joined local activists and councillors at Coast Café on Worthing seafront to discuss Labour’s chances in next month’s local elections.
The Leeds West MP, who replaced Anneliese Dodds as Shadow Chancellor last year, told activists they could lead an “earthquake” as Labour now hope to become the largest party on Worthing Council for the first time.
Ms Reeves then launched a scathing attack against Rishi Sunak over the Chancellor’s recent spring statement.
She described the Mr Sunak’s plans as “absolutely pathetic” and claimed the Chancellor is “out of touch” with ordinary people.
Speaking to Express.co.uk after her local election launch speech, the Shadow Chancellor warned the “earthquake” which could happen in Worthing could be emulated across much of the so-called ‘Blue Wall’.
She said: “More and more people are turning to Labour and some of the old certainties in politics are dissolving.
Ms Reeves added: “And I don’t think it’s just in places like Worthing but Worthing is a key one because we are neck-and-neck here on the council at the moment so it’s a critical battleground for the local elections in May.”
The Shadow Chancellor credited the Leader of the Opposition for presiding over the Labour Party’s electoral bounceback.
She said: “I think first of all under Keir Starmer’s leadership people have seen that the Labour Party has changed.
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“The Labour Party is backing business. We are obviously a pro-worker party, we always have been, but we are a pro-business party as well.
“We are a party that I think people can see on issues of defence and security but also on economic trust that people are looking to and seeing a different party.”
Ms Reeves also claimed the change inside the Tory Party had also changed the electoral landscape in seats such as Worthing.
She said: “Frankly, they’re looking at the Conservatives and seeing that their party has changed as well.”
The Shadow Chancellor added: “We are now, this is supposed to be a Conservative Government, facing the highest tax burden in seventy years.
“Fifteen tax rises in the last two years under this Chancellor, more than any Chancellor in the last fifty years.”
Labour’s plan to tackle the cost of living crisis and soaring energy bills includes a windfall tax on energy companies which could bring in as much as £3billion, meaning the Opposition’s measures would cost around £2billion more than the Government’s proposal.
Ms Reeves claimed: “That money would go directly to helping people with gas and electricity bills now.”
However, there are concerns a windfall tax might deter investment in the UK’s long-term energy supplies.
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The Prime Minister told the House of Commons on Wednesday: “That is a classic example of what Labour got wrong during its period in office. The oil and gas companies are now investing £20billion in ensuring that we have long-term energy supplies.”
Mr Johnson added: “Everything that Labour is proposing would deter investment, meaning higher prices for consumers and households up and down the land being worse off.”
The TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA) has also criticised Labour’s plans.
John O’Connell, chief executive at the TPA, told Express.co.uk: “Politicians should be wary of the siren song of windfall taxes.
“Taxing energy profits will discourage investment and dissuade new players from entering the market, meaning even bigger price rises or fewer energy suppliers able to weather a future crisis.
“Governments should focus on limiting these haphazard interventions and instead resolutely go for growth with a pro-enterprise, lower-tax agenda.”
Since Sir Keir Starmer replaced Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in March 2020, the Opposition has put forward several fiscal plans, almost all of which ruled out tax rises for working families.
However, Labour has also made costly commitments to spend £28billion a year to tackle climate change, maintain the current size of the armed forces and replace business rates with a “fairer levy”.
Some of Labour’s plans also appear to echo much of Nigel Farage’s 2019 Brexit Party manifesto.
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Mr Farage, who was disparagingly dubbed a Thatcherite by Labour when he was was UKIP leader, pledged to introduce a Brexit-related fuel VAT cut and even simplify business rates to assist small high street retailers.
When asked if Labour’s additional spending measures would be funded through borrowing rather than taxation, Ms Reeves said: “On business rates, we have said this year we would extend small business rates but then we would reform the property taxation and ask more from those global giants.
The Shadow Chancellor added: “Our policies would relieve the burden for smaller and high street businesses and increase the burden on some of those global multinationals.”
However, with the Bank of England warning the UK’s inflation rate could reach eight percent this spring, it remains to be seen whether Labour’s plan can help curb price rises for penny-pinching Brits.
Labour remain committed to raising the minimum wage to £10 an hour, despite Threadneedle Street calling for British workers to show wage “restraint” in a bid to keep costs down.
The Shadow Chancellor explained: “Increasing the minimum wage would put more money into local economies and the last thing we need is whacking up taxes on working people at the very time that we’ve got the cost of living crisis taking money out of the economy.”
When asked if a Labour Government would bring public sector pension increases in line with inflation in the hypothetical situation it entered office in September, Ms Reeves said the Government was wrong to get rid of the triple lock.
She added: “Pensions are going up by just 3.1 percent this year that means the average pensioner is £388 worse off than if the Government had stuck to their own manifesto commitment which was to maintain the triple lock.”
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