Labour and Tories fight over economy as Hunt and Reeves drop tax cut hints

Labour and Tories fight over economy as Hunt and Reeves drop tax cut hints

The Tories and Labour will fight over the economy as Sir Keir Starmer centres Saturday’s campaign on the cost-of-living crisis while the Conservatives hint at tax breaks for high earners.

The Chancellor signalled the party would seek to end the impact of tapering of personal allowances on larger incomes, while his opposite number vowed to deliver financial stability with a Thatcher-style commitment to “sound money”.

Workers lose £1 of their tax-free personal allowance for every £2 that their earnings go above £100,000, and anyone on more than £125,140 gets no allowance.

In an apparent bid to draw dividing lines with Labour, Jeremy Hunt used an interview with the Telegraph newspaper to dangle the prospect of a change to the current system.

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“If you look at the distortions in the tax system between £50,000 and £125,000, they are bad economically because they disincentivise people from doing what we need, which is to work, work harder. And we are the party of hard work,” he said.

Asked if a Tory government would aim to correct these “distortions” in another five years, he said: “Yes.”

Mr Hunt also branded inheritance tax “profoundly anti-Conservative”, but refused to be drawn on whether cuts to death duties would feature in the party manifesto.

Meanwhile, Rachel Reeves will on Saturday meet supermarket workers in London to talk about the cost-of-living crisis, attacking the Conservative approach to the economy as she pitches Labour as the party of “stability and tough spending.”

In an article on the front page of the Daily Mail, Ms Reeves said: “Back in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher proclaimed that the Conservatives were the party of sound money.”

She added: “I will never play fast and loose with your money… I believe in sound money and public spending that is kept under control.”

Ms Reeves appeared to drop a hint that she may eventually be able to cut taxes “for working people” under a Labour government, saying saying she supports reductions when there is “a plan to pay for it”.

Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Darren Jones was asked on Saturday whether the comments appearing in a right-leaning national newspaper showed Labour still need to convince middle England that they will manage the public finances responsibly.

“The Labour Party is a party that seeks to govern for the whole country on behalf of everyone’s interests and so it’s great that we are being front-page coverage on all different types of newspapers,” he told Sky News.

The Tories responded by saying there was a clear choice between sticking to a “plan which is already working” or going “back to square one” with Labour.

He also did not rule out a commitment to offer 16 and 17-year-olds the vote in the Labour manifesto, as reported in the Times, saying only that “you’ll have to wait” for the policy document.

However, sharing the front page with Ms Reeves was an intervention from former prime minister Boris Johnson, who used his Mail column to warn of a “lurch” to the left and say voters would be “mad” to hand Labour a big majority.

Mr Johnson said the electorate should “save this country from socialism” as he threw his weight behind the Conservatives – though failed to mention leader Rishi Sunak by name.

Sir Keir will hammer the message that Labour would never play “fast and loose” with taxpayer money on a visit to the West Midlands as campaigning for the July 4 vote enters day three.

Rishi Sunak meeting veterans at a community breakfast
Rishi Sunak meeting veterans at a community breakfast in his constituency in Northallerton, North Yorkshire (Oli Scarff/PA)

And Mr Sunak will take the trail back to Yorkshire after completing a whistlestop two-day tour of the four home nations.

Both leaders kicked off the third day of campaigning on familiar ground, with the PM in his constituency and Sir Keir embarking on another visit to a lower-league football club at Stafford Rangers.

Earlier in the week the Labour leader launched his pitch to voters at Gillingham Football Club, where he urged voters to “turn the page” on Tory “chaos”.

Mr Sunak met local veterans for breakfast in Northallerton on Saturday, where he joked that he avoided catching pneumonia after giving a rain-soaked statement outside Number 10 in which he announced the election.

“That’s our tradition, the Prime Minister, in the big moments, they call the election and they go out there. I thought, come rain or shine, it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

“But no pneumonia yet, my suit on the other hand… I’m not quite sure what state it will be in when I get back down to London.”

The Times reported that the Prime Minister is readying himself to “double down” on the Conservatives’ stalled Rwanda deportation scheme by using the manifesto to announce ambitions for similar schemes with other countries.

His admission that flights to the east African nation as part of the party’s flagship immigration policy will not take off before the election overshadowed his initial economy-focused pitch to voters on Thursday.

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More than 10,000 migrants have arrived in the UK so far this year after crossing the Channel, with Home Office figures published on Saturday showing that 288 people made the journey in five boats on Friday.

It comes after veteran Cabinet minister Michael Gove on Friday joined a record-breaking exodus of Conservative MPs announcing they will not stand at the election as the party languishes behind Labour in opinion polls.

The Housing Secretary revealed he was bringing a political career spanning nearly two decades to an end, saying it was time to let “a new generation lead”.

He was quickly followed by health minister Dame Andrea Leadsom, bringing the total number of Tory MPs not fighting their seats to 78 – a post-war high that exceeds the 72 who quit before Labour’s 1997 landslide victory.

The Liberal Democrats, who are targeting so-called blue wall seats in southern England, claimed the Surrey Heath MP was “running scared” from the prospect of an electoral drubbing.

Sir Ed Davey’s party will be continuing its trail across the South East on Saturday, with the leader hitting two marginal constituencies to highlight sewage-dumping as a key electoral battleground in areas near the coast.

The Lib Dems claimed that party analysis shows water company bosses have pocketed some £54 million in bonuses since 2019 as they announced plans for a new, strengthened water industry regulator to replace Ofwat.

Sir Ed said: “It is time to get rid of this toothless and weak regulator that is sitting idly by while water firms destroy our rivers and beaches with filthy sewage.

“This is a national scandal which has got far worse under the Conservatives’ watch. Their record is one of rising sewage levels and water firms stuffing their pockets with cash.”