UK politics live: Sunak talks up tax cuts after byelection defeats | Politics

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Sunak: we can afford to cut taxes during a recession

Rishi Sunak has insisted that his government can afford to cut taxes, despite the country having entered a recession, because “economic conditions have improved”.

Speaking to the media, he said “our plan is working” and he can “give everyone the peace of mind that there is a better future for them and their families”.

He said tax cuts were possible “because of our plan to halve inflation, which has been successful over the past year, and because economic conditions have improved. We have already been able to start cutting taxes for people.”

He continued:

We delivered a significant tax cut at the start of this year, cutting the rate of national insurance from 12% to 10%, now that means someone on an average earnings of about £35,000 is seeing a tax cut worth £450 that hit their payslips in January.

Now that will benefit everyone in work, it demonstrates that our plan is working. And if we stick with that plan, I can give everyone the piece of mind that there is a better future for them and their families ahead, and we can all have a renewed sense of pride in the country.

Sunak is in Harlow today, where he has been meeting the local police force.

British prime minister Rishi Sunak is shown a new electric hybrid deployment police car during a media visit to Harlow police station in Essex.
British prime minister Rishi Sunak is shown a new electric hybrid deployment police car during a media visit to Harlow police station in Essex. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

He told the media that he was making progress on his five key pledges. He said:

We’ve clearly been through a lot over the past couple of years as a country, but I genuinely believe at the start of this year we’re pointing in the right direction.

Now we’re not out of the woods yet, but across all the priorities that I set out we’re making progress.

Inflation has been more than halved, the economy out-performed expectations last year, debt is on track to fall, we’ve cut the number of illegal migrants coming by a third and we’re making progress on the longest waits in the NHS.

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Key events

Scottish Labour will be “responsible” with public money if elected to be the Scottish government in 2026, Anas Sarwar said.

He told Scottish Labour conference in Glasgow:

The SNP is being reckless with your money, and Scots shouldn’t be forced to pay the price for their incompetence. Because people work hard, pay their taxes, and expect government to be responsible with their money – it shouldn’t be too much to ask.

We will end the culture of financial mismanagement, we will end the secrecy, and we will open the books to public scrutiny, to restore people’s trust in our politics. We will be responsible with every penny of public money – that’s what change means and that’s why change matters.

Turning his attention back to the Conservatives and London, Sarwar said “I don’t support independence. And I don’t support a referendum. But I understand why people want to run a million miles from a Tory government”

He implored people to go “on this part of the journey” together to end the Conservative government in Westminster as the first step.

Anas Sarwar, the Labour leader in Scotland, has attacked the Conservative government in London for being in thrall to a “right-wing crankfest” and culture wars, and promised that a Labour government would end corruption and get back money lost during the pandemic and through cronyism.

He said:

The Tories are so mired in scandal and division and chaos, that their MPs are too busy trying to find a way to save their own skin rather than focusing on the huge challenges facing our country.

And while they seek to divide communities from each other, they also seek to divide us between haves and have-nots. They have crashed the economy – and put the UK into recession.

Imagine five more years of Jacob Rees-Mogg, Priti Patel, Lee Anderson, Liz Truss, Suella Braverman and Rishi Sunak. What an unbearable nightmare.

He has also been highly critical of the SNP, saying a culture of cover-up and secrecy has enveloped the Scottish government. He said that by voting Scottish Labour, Scotland would be at the heart of the next UK government.

Anas Sarwar has said statehood for Palestine is “not the gift of a neighbour”.

Here are the quotes from slightly earlier in the speech with have just appeared on PA:

The loss of innocent life in Israel and in Gaza is an absolute travesty.

On 7 October, we saw the largest loss of Jewish life in any single day since the Holocaust – it was unimaginable, unforgivable, and unjustifiable.

And we were right to show our solidarity with the Jewish people, and with the people of Israel in the face of that terror.

And as I have been clear, the collective punishment of 2.2 million innocent citizens of Gaza is not – never can be – a justifiable response to the horror inflicted by Hamas.

Describing himself as a “proud son of Glasgow”, Anas Sarwar, the Labour leader in Scotland has introduced his children, and said he is proud to be bringing up his children there. He has criticised the Scottish government for concentrating too much power in Holyrood.

He says that two years ago conference paid tribute to those in Ukraine, and says they do again. He says they also show solidarity with the people of Israel after the 7 October attack which he described as “unforgiveable”, going on to say the collective punishment of 2.2 million people in the Gaza Strip cannot be the right response. He says “the fighting must stop now”, calling for the end of fire going into and out of Gaza, the release of all hostages, the delivery of humanitarian aid, and for world leaders to work on an enduring path to a two state solution.

Sarwar says a collective failure of the international community to strive for peace has led to this situation because only when there is a safe and secure Israel side-by-side with a safe and secure Palestinian state will there be peace.

He says that people must separate Hamas from the Palestinian people, and separate the Israeli people from the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, and that the peaceful aspirations of the people of both Israel and Palestine are being poorly served by bad faith actors.

He says there must be a zero tolerance for antisemitism and a zero tolerance for Islamophobia, and that the Labour party will always stand shoulder-to-shoulder with both communities.

Anas Sarwar MSP, leader of the Scottish Labour party at the Scottish Labour Conference earlier. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Anas Sarwar, the Labour leader in Scotland is opening his Scottish Labour conference speech by saying Scottish Labour is “back on the pitch and winning again” after the year they’ve had since their last conference.

Sarwar has described this year’s vote as “the most important general election for a generation”. He appealed to activists to remember the goosebumps they felt when Michael Shanks was elected, and talks of watching Labour MP after Labour MP being elected and the electoral map turning red and a Labour prime minister being elected.

“That’s the change we are fighting for, and the change our country so desperately needs,” he said.

Rutherglen and Hamilton West MP Michael Shanks is warming up for Anas Sarwar at the moment in Glasgow at the Scottish Labour conference. He is telling conference it is great that “Labour gain” is back in their vocabulary in Scotland, has made jibes at the SNP’s leadership election and iPad expenses scandal, and joked about Ian Murray, Labour’s only other MP in Scotland, having to now share his office in Westminster after Shanks was elected in October last year.

Labour’s leader in Scotland, Anas Sarwar, is about to address the Scottish Labour conference in Glasgow. You can watch it here.

Keir Starmer said the results from the Kingswood and Wellingborough byelections – where two Labour parliamentary candidates took seats from the Conservatives – show people want change.

On X, next to a clip from his BBC Breakfast appearance this morning, he said:

The message from Kingswood and Wellingborough is clear – people are crying out for change.

As we approach a general election, Labour will work to earn every vote, so we can deliver this change across the country.

The message from Kingswood and Wellingborough is clear – people are crying out for change.

As we approach a general election, Labour will work to earn every vote, so we can deliver this change across the country.

— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) February 16, 2024

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Ed Miliband has been speaking at the Scottish Labour conference in Glasgow, and said that basing the proposed new GB Energy company in Scotland would help make the country the UK’s “clean energy capital”.

Saying this would be part of a “just transition” away from industries such as oil and gas, he added: “I’m old enough to remember when the SNP made this promise, seven years ago they promised a publicly owned energy company. They have failed to deliver. We will deliver on that promise.”

Miliband said “We’re going to have GB Energy, a publicly owned energy company, headquartered here in Scotland investing billions of pounds. We’re going to have a British jobs bonus. We want to end the grotesque situation where we have massive offshore windfarms off the coast of Scotland but not a piece of them is built here in Scotland. We are going to change that.

“We will create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the industries that will power our future – hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, floating offshore wind. These are the technologies. We are going to succeed where the SNP and the Tories have failed.”

Ed Miliband at Scottish Labour Conference in Glasgow. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Polly Toynbee has her column today on the byelection results, arguing that the voters of Wellingborough and Kingswood said one thing with one voice: the Tory era is over.

Here is a video clip of Rishi Sunak delivering his verdict on the byelection results in Wellingborough and Kingswood.

Tory party has ‘work to do’ after byelection defeats, says Sunak – video

Here is what prime minister Rishi Sunak had to say specifically about the byelection defeats in Wellingborough and Kingswood:

Midterm elections are always difficult for incumbent governments, and the circumstances of these elections were of course particularly challenging.

Now, I think if you look at the results, very low turnout, and it shows that we’ve got work to do to show people that we are delivering on their priorities and that’s what I’m absolutely determined to do, but also shows that there isn’t a huge amount of enthusiasm for the alternative in Keir Starmer and the Labour party, and that’s because they don’t have a plan.

And if you don’t have a plan, you can’t deliver real change. And when the general election comes, that’s the message I’ll be making to the country. Stick with our plan, because it is starting to deliver the change that the country wants and needs.

Sunak refers to the byelections as midterm, although they come right at the end of the current five year parliament, with a general election set to take place within months.

David Frost has posted to social media to say that he believes it is not too late for the Conservatives to change course and still win the next election. The peer said:

I will have more to say in Telegraph later, but in brief these byelections show the same story as previous ones: former Conservative voters are simply not coming out and voting Conservative. The Labour vote isn’t going up, but ours is collapsing. To get voters back we need a shift to more conservative policy, on tax and spend, immigration, net zero, public sector reform, and more. It’s late, but not – yet – too late.

I will have more to say in @Telegraph later, but in brief these by-elections show the same story as previous ones: former Conservative voters are simply not coming out and voting Conservative.

The Labour vote isn’t going up, but ours is collapsing.

To get voters back we need a…

— David Frost (@DavidGHFrost) February 16, 2024

I mentioned earlier that Rishi Sunak is in Harlow this morning, meeting local police. As well as commenting about his party’s two byelection defeats [See 9.49 GMT], the prime minister has been speaking to the media about knife crime and policing policy.

He was shown a series of more than half a dozen blades that had been confiscated by officers, and spoke about plans to increase patrols in areas affected by antisocial behaviour.

Sunak said:

I’ve been here in Essex talking to the police about that plan and how it’s working, and the good news is that it is working and making a real difference.

Through the increased use of hotspot policing, drug testing on arrest, dispersal powers, on-the-spot fines, we’ve seen antisocial behaviour fall by up to 50% in the areas where we’ve trialled this new plan.

That’s why we’re now going to roll it out across the country with more funding so that everyone can benefit from these improvements and it just shows that if we stick to the plan we can deliver a brighter future for everyone.

Sunak picks up a ‘zombie knife’ while visiting Harlow police station. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/PA

Yesterday, home secretary James Cleverly posted to social media about plans to role out what the government calls “hotspot policing”.

Our pilot of hotspot policing has more officers out on the beat to drive down antisocial behaviour.

From April, we’re rolling it out to every police force in England and Wales.

That means up to 900,000 extra hours of targeted patrols in communities up and down the country.

— James Cleverly🇬🇧 (@JamesCleverly) February 15, 2024

Keir Starmer said that he had made a tough decision to drop the party’s support for Azhar Ali in the Rochdale byelection, but he was “satisfied” with Labour’s “robust due process”.

He told BBC Breakfast earlier:

I did something that no leader of the Labour party has ever done before, which is to remove a candidate in a byelection where they cannot be replaced, because I was so determined to take decisive action in relation to antisemitism.

It was done within days. We are giving up a Labour seat. That’s the right thing to do. But what it shows is, when there’s tough decisions to be made I take those decisions.

I’ve put in place in the Labour party a robust due process exercised for every single candidate. We must continue to fight antisemitism wherever we are in organisations, in political parties.

Richard Tice, fresh from Reform UK’s best ever byelection performances, has been on GB News arguing that the prime minister and the Conservative party should “step aside” and let him and his party challenge Labour at the next election.

He told the broadcaster:

I think people are realising the Tories are tired, that they are old and they are toxic. They’ve had the chance – they’ve blown it, frankly, they should stand aside now having messed up. My message to them is let me take on Keir Starmer and beat him. You’ve got to be optimistic. I’ve got loads of it.

He added that there was no chance that Reform UK would step aside from contesting Conservative seats, as forerunner the Brexit party did in 2019.

No way. [The Conservative party] had a chance before. No one believes a word they say anymore. They said that last time and we fell for it. We’re not falling for that nonsense again. No one trusts them. I’ve still got the scars on my back from last time. A week tomorrow we will be releasing the draft of our election contract with the people which will cover all of these areas in great detail, including costings.

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Yesterday I mentioned that the Conservatives had taken a four second clip of London mayor Sadiq Khan misspeaking during an interview and used it on social media to imply he had said that the Labour party was “proud to be both anti racist, but also antisemitic”.

The social media post was widely criticised for being misleading, as the Conservatives had edited out Khan immediately correcting himself to say he was proud of the way the party was tackling antisemitism.

They accompanied the four second clip with the caption “Sadiq Khan says the quiet part out loud”. Miriam Mirwitch, who is national secretary of the Jewish Labour Movement, condemned it as “cynical political point scoring [that] will only hurt British Jews like me.”

This morning Calum Macdonald tried to challenge Tory chair Richard Holden about it when he appeared on Times Radio. Holden absolutely refused to engage with the argument that the party was spreading misinformation, instead saying it wasn’t the main issue, and arguing about the semantics of whether the video was “edited” or “clipped”.

The exchange is excruciating – you can watch it here:

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