The UK Conservative Party conference started on the 3rd October 2021 in Manchester under a hybrid format, with tickets available to attend both in person as well as online. It will last until the 6th October, and should offer some clarity in the Government’s direction at a historically unique point for Britain’s economy.
The conference kicked off with notable clout surrounding the UK chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak’s reprimand of Tory MP Chris Loder, who had stated that he wishes for supply chains to be disrupted amid the HGV driver shortage. Sunak used it as an opportunity to underscore his vision for a “higher-wage, high-skill economy, more productive economy”. Sunak also stated that the HMRC is investigating the revelations made from the recently leaked Pandora papers.
At 11:50 on the 4th October, Rishi Sunak gave a speech to the Party explaining some of the legislation going forward, with a particular focus on the support people will need as the COVID-19 furlough schemes come to an end. Sunak confirmed that he will do “whatever is takes” to help workers who face potential unemployment and revealed that there will be a £500m extension to the ‘plan for jobs’ scheme; the programme will aid those over 50 years of age as well as workers coming off furlough schemes. It will consist of one-to-one support and a continuation of the £3,000 incentive scheme for businesses to take on new apprentices.
Sunak also confirmed that the Government is going ahead with the decision to remove the £20-per-week rise to Universal Credit payments. This comes amid salient backlash from charities and campaigners who posit that the ruling will increase poverty levels. The families affected will lose around 5% of their incomes, a number usually reserved for periods of recession. The average income reduction will be £2,600 per year.
The two concurrent affairs that are dominating headlines across the country also had their share of screentime at the conference. Regarding food shortages in British shops, Rishi Sunak downplayed a statement made by foreign secretary Liz Truss who had stated that she did not “believe the prime minister is responsible for what’s in the shops.” In response to criticism that Truss appeared to be minimising the role of Government, Sunak stated that while “it’s reasonable that people expect us to do what we can”, the Government can’t “wave a magic wand” and get the global supply chain problems to disappear overnight. Regarding the fuel shortages, Sunak said that the situation is “improving” – while there has been a significant spike in demand, they are still distributing more petrol to forecourts than what is being taken out.
The pig industry is being heavily affected by the labour shortage. The CEO of the National Pig Association Zoe Davies criticised that the Government’s decision to implement higher wages in its industry, arguing that it would only result in higher prices for consumers.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged a commitment for the UK to have all of its electricity to come from renewable energy sources before 2035. It should come alongside the current objective to cease the inclusion of all internal combustion engines in new vehicles by 2030. Johnson stated that it should place the UK in the front of the burgeoning industry of clean vehicles and will also make a “huge difference” to the UK’s CO2 output.
Michael Gove, the secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities and Minister for intergovernmental relations, conceded that the current condition of some of the social housing across the country is “scandalous”. The Government will offer incentive schemes to social housing providers to “improve stock and to increase numbers”.
At just past 12 o’clock on the 4th October, Rishi Sunak gave his much-anticipated speech. In it, he pledged commitment to Conservative political ideologies as well as promise to support and protect the population. Further into the speech, Sunak acknowledged that current fiscal pressures might encourage an increase in borrowing or funding of health and social care. While he confirmed that the Government does want tax cuts, he is standing by the decision to raise taxes. Sunak posited that in order to achieve a positive future for the country, “public finances must be put back on a sustainable footing”.
Though not explicitly mentioning the drop of £20-per-week for Universal Credit recipients, Sunak argued that increasing the population’s reliance on state welfare is not the best approach in the long-term. Sunak doubled down on his commitment to “good work, better skills and higher wages”. Sunak also posited that the departure from the European Union will help Britain down the line.
In summarising the values expounded during his speech, Sunak concluded stating that “mindless ideology is dangerous” and that excessive borrowing is “not just economically irresponsible… it is… immoral”. This should indicate that our Conservative Government will likely continue an increase in tax rates as well as social funding before focusing on liberal financing. This appears to be the case with the commitments made to extending furlough support schemes, addressing social housing, and funding of social welfare.
Despite shut-downs of social media platforms Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp yesterday, Boris Johnson managed to maintain his online presence on Twitter. Obscure videos making puns of the mantra ‘Build Back Better’ include Johnson making toast saying “Build Back Butter” and eating fish and chips saying“Build Back Batter”, much to spectators’ amusement.
At 08:30 on Tuesday 5th October, Jonson mitigated concerns of the worker shortage constituting a ‘crisis’, portraying the situation as somewhat inevitable from a reviving economy and what “you’d expect from a giant waking up”. Johnson also told the BBC 4’s Today programme that the UK has logistics and supply chain experts who should help find a solution soon. Johnson also told LBC that the Insulate Britain protestors are causing “considerable damage to the economy”, arguing that the home secretary Priti Patel has done the right thing in bringing in authorities to punish antisocial behaviour with six months or an unlimited fine.
Boris Johnson, at 09:03 on the 5th October, did not exclude the possibility that there could be further tax rises in the budget planned for 27th October. This echoes similar implications made in chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak’s speech the day before. Johnson also dismissed rumours of an upcoming election in 2023, stating that “nobody is thinking about” the prospect.
Housing minister Christopher Pincher made an announcement at the Conservative Conference where he argued that getting renters on the housing ladder is essential to supporting capitalism. With the Party functioning as a leader and backbone of the implementation of capitalism, Pincher said, it is impossible to “support and promote and defend capitalism without capitalists”.
Further discussions at the conference, particularly by home secretary Priti Patel, focused on the recent high-profile cases of violence, crime against women, asylum seekers, climate activism, and immigration.
The rest of the 2021 Conservative Party Conference will continue until the 6th October. The issues discussed over the last 2 days will likely continue to be brought up by media outlets and interviewers; while the Government will announce some policies in more mainstream ways (such as when Boris Johnson avoided giving a direct answer to a question about increasing the minimum wage), there will probably be some more concrete data to be announced at the Conference itself.