The Week in Review

Emily Evans – Political Consultant for the Economy and Financial Services

And just like that, we are on to the final fortnight. This week was all about the economy, stupid. Wednesday’s inflation statistics from the ONS showed UK inflation is finally back to the two percent target, for the first time in almost three years. That was not enough to convince the Monetary Policy Committee, however, who held the bank rate at its 16-year high of 5.25 percent yet again. Somewhat rosy economic news did not get much airtime, however, as scandals – mostly election betting related – dominated headlines this week, surely to CCHQ’s despair.

On Monday, Reform UK published their manifesto – titled ‘Our Contract with You’. Core pledges included leaving the European Convention on Human Rights, barring student dependents, and raising National Insurance to 20 percent on foreign workers. A huge number of tax cuts – including lifting the Income Tax threshold to £20,000, abolishing Stamp Duty for properties below £750k, and abolishing Inheritance Tax for estates under £2m – would supposedly be offset by some dubious number crunching. Money saving measures suggested included saving £35m on the Bank of England paying interest on QE reserves – a number that has been debunked by the New Economics Foundation – as well as demanding departments “save £5 in every £100” and HMRC collecting “billions in unpaid tax”. Meanwhile, Labour and the Tories were in a mud-slinging match about whether their own numbers totted up.

Tuesday saw rumours that former Prime Minister Boris Johnson would help the Tories campaigning efforts, with thousands of letters signed by Johnson expected to be delivered to supporters. Sunak was recorded saying he was “glad” Johnson was getting involved in the campaign and that he was making a difference. However, by Wednesday the media was reporting Johnson would not be joining Sunak on the campaign trail and had done his bit sending out letters and cameo-style videos – much to the chagrin of Conservatives who won 2019 seats in Labour’s historic ‘red wall’.

Wednesday was the SNP’s moment in the sun as they published their manifesto ‘A Future Made in Scotland’. They pledged to deliver independence, rejoin the EU, and “stand against the Westminster consensus on cuts”, attempting to draw dividing lines between themselves and Labour as well as the Conservatives. They also promised to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the abolition of the House of Lords, and to scrap Trident. George Galloway’s Workers Party of Britain also published their manifesto, to less fanfare, promising to increase the Income Tax threshold to £21,200 – never one to be outdone by Farage.

Wednesday’s inflation news was quickly overshadowed on Thursday by the news that more election bets had been placed by Conservatives with dubious timing. Conservative candidate Craig Williams had barely finished apologizing for placing a £100 bet on a July election just three days before the election was announced when news broke that a police officer working in Sunak’s protection team and a second Conservative candidate were being investigated by the Gambling Commission. Leaders struggled to get their planned messages across as they were inundated with questions about the bets. Starmer called for the candidates to be dropped, Farage said the Conservative Party was “more corrupt that even its worst critics could have imagined”, and Ed Davey said the allegations were “quite awful”, “immoral” and “illegal”.

Thursday night saw Sunak, Starmer, Davey and SNP leader John Swinney face a BBC Question Time election special. Davey was pushed on the Liberal Democrats actions during the coalition, Starmer was grilled over policy U-turns, and Sunak was forced to distance himself from Liz Truss. Notable moments included Sunak fumbling on potential sanctions for those who avoided national service, Starmer saying through gritted teeth that he thought Jeremy Corbyn would have made a better Prime Minister than Boris Johnson, and Davey saying the fall out from tuition fees was a “scarring experience”. There was no “who won” poll at the end, but the media seemed to conclude that it was a bad night for politics with no-one performing at their best and distrust for politicians taking centre stage.

On Friday the ONS published the last set of public sector finances statistics before the election. They showed monthly borrowing of £15bn in May 2024 – the third highest May borrowing since monthly records began in 1993 – and borrowing in the financial year to May 2024 at £33.5bn – the fourth highest since monthly records began, and at its highest since the Covid crisis. Labour were quick to respond saying “the national debt has reached an eye-watering 63-year high”. Former Tory minister Chris Skidmore – who resigned in January over the Conservatives relaxing net zero targets – said he would be backing Labour. And Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Angela Rayner did the media rounds, insisting Labour were not planning a Council Tax rise “at the moment”.

Sunak ends the week in Wales, seemingly joining the bandwagon in turning to rhetoric around not giving Labour a supermajority. He pleaded “do not let Labour waltz into office without scrutinising them”. Meanwhile Starmer has seen out the week in Scotland where Labour is expected to make major gains.

With less than two weeks to go until polling day, the BBCs poll tracker has Labour on 41 percent, Conservatives on 20 percent, and Reform UK not far behind on 16 percent. YouGov’s second MRP – which shows projections for individual seats – has Labour on course to win 425 seats and the Conservatives on what would be their lowest seat count in history, 108. They have Liberal Democrats winning 67 seats (a jaw dropping increase of 56), the SNP plummeting to just 20, and Plaid Cymru keeping their four Welsh constituencies. Notably, YouGov now has Reform UK winning five seats – Louth and Horncastle, Great Yarmouth, Clacton, Basildon and Billericay, and Ashfield. And they are now predicting the Greens will take Bristol Central as well as Brighton Pavilion. If the Conservatives had any hope of moving the dial, they are fast running out of time.

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