Labour has ‘nothing to fear’ from Tory PM candidates, says shadow minister

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The Guardian

Labour has nothing to fear from any of the Conservative leadership candidates and their “arms race” of tax cut pledges, the shadow education secretary, Bridget Phillipson, has said.

With candidates to be the next prime minister due to be narrowed down to just two over the next three days, Labour MPs have been watching on, as deep Conservative divisions have been exposed by the hard-fought contest.

Asked by Sophy Ridge on Sky News which candidate her party most feared, Phillipson said: “I’m not worried about any of them. I don’t think we’ve got anything to fear from any of the candidates, and the reason for that is that all of them have propped up Boris Johnson and the Conservative government for 12 years now.

“And over those 12 years, what have we seen happen in our country? We’ve seen our vital public services, whether that’s schools or hospitals, get worse and worse. Britain is completely stuck. You can’t renew your passport, more and more people going to food banks, rising levels of child poverty.”

She said the candidates had been engaged in an “arms race around tax cuts” with none of them willing to set out what that could mean in terms of cuts – “how many teachers, how many doctors, what will be the impact on our public services?”

Keir Starmer told the Guardian on Friday that the events of recent weeks had strengthened his determination to fight and, he said, win the next general election on the economy.

Labour strategists have been taken aback by the extent to which cabinet ministers have been ready to disown the record of a government in which they are still serving.

In particular, the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, who has the backing of the Boris Johnson loyalists Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg, has questioned the way her party has managed the economy.

“Now is the time to be bold,” she said at her campaign launch last week. “We cannot have business-as-usual economic management which has led to low growth for decades.” Comments such as this are being stored up by Labour for future election campaigning.

Phillipson reiterated Labour’s policy of removing the tax benefits enjoyed by private schools and ploughing the money saved into state education.

Some senior Labour figures had been concerned by the potential electoral appeal of Penny Mordaunt, who has performed well among focus groups, but have been reassured by her failure to set out detailed policy.

“She’s very superficial,” said one shadow minister, adding that Tom Tugendhat could present more of a challenge to Labour, but had no chance of winning. Tugendhat trailed in fifth position in Thursday’s second round of voting.

Starmer will have one of his final opportunities for an extended debate against Johnson on Monday after the government tabled a motion of confidence in itself. The decision followed a bitter row last week after Labour laid a motion of its own asking MPs to express whether they had confidence in a government led by Johnson.

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Convention dictates that the government make time for any such motion laid in the name of the leader of the opposition; but Johnson declined to do so, with Tory whips claiming it was not a standard motion. Political historians pointed out that a variety of no confidence motions had been accepted in the past, however.

Monday’s motion will almost certainly be handily won by the government, which still holds a working majority of 73 despite several recent byelection losses.

Even Conservative MPs who were keen to see Johnson depart sooner than September – the date now agreed – would be wary of the risk of triggering a general election at a time when Labour has been consistently ahead in the polls.

However, Labour will hope to use the motion to campaign against backbench Tories who vote to maintain Johnson in office until the autumn.

July 18, 2022 at 12:11AM Heather Stewart

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