Theresa May said our economy can't be entrusted to Corbyn before stealing Labour policies and announcing a £122bn Brexit black hole

'Shooting oneself in the foot' doesn’t even cover it

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The Independent Online

If you thought things couldn’t get any worse in politics, you should probably look away now. From Brexit to Donald Trump’s recent election, it’s fair to say that the news cycle has been pretty bleak in the last few weeks. Lucky for us, then, that our Chancellor Philip Hammond chose today, the day of his much-anticipated Autumn Statement, to let us know that the state of the UK economy is in even worse shape than we feared. Prior to the European Referendum analysts predicted that the “Brexit black hole” would total somewhere around £100bn. Today, the Chancellor confirmed that the figure is likely to be closer to £122bn, if not more.

For six years we have heard slogans from failing Tory governments about tackling the deficit and getting the country back into a surplus. Today the Chancellor confirmed that such slogans have been nothing but rhetoric. When George Osborne entered the treasury in 2010, he promised to balance the books within just a few years – and he said that the brutal cuts which plunged so many into poverty were therefore “necessary”. Today, Hammond dropped the pledge to reach a budget surplus by 2020 and only stated that it may happen sometime “in the next parliament”.

In real talk, that means that after six years of rampant austerity and failed Tory economics, the country is on a downward spiral. The Chancellor has now failed to meet a single target set by George Osborne in his last statement and the Tories continue to head up the creek without a paddle.

The only “give-aways” the Government could manage today were taken from Labour’s manifesto in 2015. Easing the burden on renters by abolishing tenant fees is a welcome move, one originally pledged by Ed Miliband, but it is a year too late.

Autumn Statement explained

And though one Tory hand giveth, the other taketh away. At a time when the education budget faces serious strain, the Government has set aside £60m for grammar school expansion. As public services are stripped of vital funding, the Chancellor stormed ahead with the planned cuts to corporation tax as the UK engages in a race to the bottom with Donald Trump. The cuts imposed today will leave the “just about managing” families that Theresa May so often heralds out of pocket by thousands of pounds. This was a statement that finally confirmed the economic incompetence of this backward Tory party driven by ideological and often nonsensical cuts.

There is, however, some scope for optimism. It finally seems that the Labour party has started to get its act together. Many have heralded Jeremy Corbyn’s second leadership victory as the point at which the Labour leader found a new wave of confidence and finally gained the support – however reluctant – of his surrounding MPs. Corbyn’s performance at Prime Minister’s Questions directly before the Autumn Statement was encouraging.

The Labour leader had the Prime Minister on the ropes as Theresa May attempted to let the roar of her Tory MPs drown out Corbyn’s assessment of the Government’s assault on the NHS. Given that the NHS is firm Labour territory, it is no surprise that Corbyn delivered a passionate defence of the service – but it was good to see how well he managed to dismantle May’s platitudes and challenge her misleading rhetoric about Tory commitments to national health and social care.

Perhaps the greatest irony of all was the Prime Minister’s claim that we can only afford a world-class NHS if her party is trusted to continue growing the UK economy. Yes, the Prime Minister said this just minutes before her own Chancellor confirmed that the predictions for economic growth had been slashed and that the nation faces a £122bn black hole. “Shooting oneself in the foot” doesn’t even cover it.

McDonnell: Autumn statement is 'press release policy making'

Moments after the Chancellor concluded his remarks, the Office for Budget Responsibility confirmed even worse news: the national debt looks set to hit almost £2 trillion. To put that into perspective, when Labour left office in 2010 the national debt stood at around £800bn. After six years of cuts the Government has managed to more than double the debt. A truly incredible accomplishment. 

John McDonnell’s response to Hammond’s Autumn Statement was strong. He challenged the Government on its apparent alliance with working people by arguing: “If this Autumn Statement is supposed to re-launch the Conservative party on the side of working people, it has already failed.”

McDonnell lambasted the Government for “regurgitating old policies they’ve already failed on” before stating that “this Autumn Statement represents six wasted years of abject Tory failure.” A particularly strong line from the Shadow Chancellor was his knowing reference to May’s ‘Jams’ rhetoric: “Those who are just about managing are not just an electoral demographic, but friends, neighbours and the people we represent.”

In responding to continued Tory failure, the Labour party proved that it is more than worthy of providing opposition to this Government. As the Labour leadership continues to grow in political stature in the face of an increasingly dismal Tory regime, and as sensible Americans mourn the fact that Donald Trump has just been voted in as their President-elect, Jeremy Corbyn might just be the Prime Minister-in-waiting that this country so desperately needs.

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