Keir Starmer lays into social media fan Sunak over 'Instagram' Budget

‘I’m sure this Budget will look better on Instagram’: Keir Starmer lays into social media-loving Chancellor Rishi Sunak over spending plan that ‘papers over the cracks’ of the economic crisis created by coronavirus

  • Labour leader goaded Sunak after he presented his plan for nation’s finances
  • Said Chancellor was ‘person actually making decisions in this Government’
  • But added: ‘The Chancellor’s film crew will struggle to put positive spin on this’

Sir Keir Starmer accused Rishi Sunak of using today’s Budget to ‘paper over the cracks’ that have opened up in the UK economy during the Covid pandemic –  as he took aim at the Chancellor’s love of social media.

The Labour leader goaded Mr Sunak after he presented his plan to restore the nation’s finances, saying that it ‘will look better on Instagram’.

Mr Sunak has hit the headlines recently over the amount of effort – and taxpayers money –  he has put into building his personal brand online.

This included a six-minute video released this week showing his Budget preparations and analysing his first year as Chancellor.

Labour increasingly sees the ambitious occupant of No11 as their main threat as he is the favourite to replace Boris Johnson as prime minister, perhaps even before the next election.

Responding to the Budget, Sir Keir laid into Mr Sunak’s financial record, saying: ‘After 11 months in this job, it’s nice finally to be standing opposite the person actually making decisions in this Government.

‘The trouble is it’s those decisions that have left us with the mess we find today – the worst economic crisis of any major economy in the last 12 months, unemployment at 5 per cent and as the Chancellor said, forecast to rise to 6.5 per cent, with debt of over £2 trillion.

‘I’m sure this Budget will look better on Instagram, in fact this week’s PR video cost the taxpayer so much I was half expecting to see a lion in the OBR forecast for it, but even the Chancellor’s film crew will struggle to put a positive spin on this.

Rishi Sunak announced that income tax thresholds are being frozen until 2026 and corporation tax is being hiked from 2023 today as he revealed the government is spending an ‘unimaginable’ £407billion on the Covid response

On Monday Mr Sunak posted a glitzy pre-Budget video on Twitter detailing his first year as Chancellor, in a move which reignited speculation of a future Tory leadership bid.

The Labour leader goaded Ms Sunak after he presented his plan to restore the nation’s finances, saying that it ‘will look better on Instagram’

Budget 2021 at a glance

Here are the main points of Rishi Sunak’s Budget today:

  • Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) predicts economy will return to pre-Covid levels by the middle of 2022, six months earlier than previously though.
  • OBR forecast economy will grow this year by 4 per cent, by 7.3 per cent in 2022, then 1.7 per cent, 1.6 per cent and 1.7 per cent up to 2025 
  • Unemployment now expected to peak at 6.5 per cent, down from 11.9 per cent expected in July 2020 forecast, meaning 1.8million fewer people out of work.  
  • Furlough scheme extended to the end of September under current 80 per cent of salary rate. 
  • Employers asked to pay 10 per cent in July, then 20 per cent in August and September. 
  • Support for self-employed also goes on until September. 
  • £20 Universal Credit uplift remains in place for another six months. 
  • Apprentice grants for employers doubled to £3,000.
  • £5billion fund for Restart Grants for businesses. Retailers will get up to £6,000 per site from April. Hospitality and leisure open later and will be able to claim up to £18,000.
  • New recovery loan scheme for businesses of £25,000 to £10million, 80 per cent guaranteed by the Government.
  • Business rate holiday in place until June and discounted for the remaining nine months of 2021-22 financial year. 
  • 5 per cent VAT rate for hospitality extended to September, then at 12.5 per cent until April 2022 before returning to 20 per cent regular rate.
  • Stamp Duty holiday extended until June for homes worth up to £500,000, then phased back in. 
  • Mortgage guarantee scheme for those with 5% deposit to boost home sales.
  • UK’s total public spending bill estimated at £407billion. 
  • The UK has borrowed £355billion – 17 per cent of GDP – the highest since the Second World War.
  • No income tax, VAT or national insurance rises.  
  • Tax free income threshold will rise to £12,570 next year and then frozen until 2026.
  • Higher rate threshold rises to £50,270 next year and then frozen until 2026. 
  • Corporation Tax increased to 25 per cent in 2023.
  • Small Profit Rate of 19 per cent set up for small businesses. 
  • Inheritance tax thresholds, pensions lifetime allowance, and annual exempt amount in capital gains tax maintained at current levels until April 2026.
  • Alcohol duty frozen.
  • Fuel duty frozen. 

‘After the decisions of the last year and the decade of neglect, we needed a Budget to fix the foundations of our economy, to reward our key workers, to protect the NHS and to build a more secure and prosperous economy for the future.

‘Instead, what we got was a Budget that papered over the cracks rather than rebuilding the foundations.’

On Monday Mr Sunak posted a glitzy pre-Budget video on Twitter detailing his first year as Chancellor, in a move which reignited speculation of a future Tory leadership bid.

Mr Sunak’s video, the latest example of ‘Brand Rishi’, clocked in at almost six minutes long and featured clips from an informal sit down interview cut with footage of him in the Commons and out on official visits.

It also shows all of the financial support initiatives brought forward by the Treasury during the coronavirus crisis and sets everything against an orchestral soundtrack. 

Mr Sunak said in the video that ‘at the heart of this Budget will be honesty and fairness’ as he also revealed ‘my face was a complete picture of shock’ when Boris Johnson offered him the job last February.

The publication of the video came as a new poll showed more than a third of 2019 Tory voters would approve of Mr Sunak replacing Mr Johnson as prime minister before the next general election.

Mr Sunak this afternoon announced that income tax thresholds are being frozen until 2026 and corporation tax is being hiked from 2023 today as he revealed the government is spending an ‘unimaginable’ £407billion on the Covid response.

In a crucial Budget that will set the country’s course for years, the Chancellor said he knew the revenue-raising measures would be ‘unpopular’.

But he insisted the alternative of ‘doing nothing’ was not right, pointing out increases will not be implemented until the recovery is well established.

Mr Sunak hailed the impact of the vaccine rollout saying the government’s watchdog now expects the economy to get back to its pre-pandemic level by mid-2022 – six months earlier than previously thought.

Growth this year will be a bumper 4 per cent after the fast vaccine rollout, and unemployment should now peak at 6.5 per cent instead of 11.9 per cent. That means 1.8million fewer people will lose their jobs, according to Mr Sunak.

However, he warned that the economy will still be 3 per cent smaller than it should have been in five years’ time, pointing to a looming bill for taxpayers.

‘When the next crisis comes we need to be able to act again,’ he insisted, saying a one percentage point increase in interest rates on the UK’s £2.1trillion debt mountain would cost the UK £25billion in servicing costs.

In a barrage of big spending commitments worth a total of £65billion, Mr Sunak said he is extending the furlough scheme for an extra five months, as well as keeping self-employed and business bailouts.

The £20-a-week boost to Universal Credit will stay for another six months, alongside VAT and business rates breaks for hospitality, leisure and tourism.

There were efforts to get people shopping, including raising the contactless payment limit from £45 to £100, as well as freezing alcohol duties and dropping the idea of raising fuel duty.

But Mr Sunak warned that the largesse – on top of the £280billion already shelled out by the Treasury – must come to an end. Including the spend announced at the Budget last year it will total £407billion by the end of next year.

Corporation tax will be increased from 19 per cent to 25 per cent in 2023, although there will be breaks for smaller businesses – potentially bringing in £20billion a year. The basic and higher income tax rates will be frozen from next year, dragging thousands more people into higher rates.

He set out a three-part plan for the recovery and repairing the devastated public finances – as well as turning the UK into a ‘science superpower’.

One major measure to fuel growth is a tax ‘super-deduction’ for companies that invest in the UK – meaning that they will be able to claim relief of 130 per cent of the value of their investment.

And eight new ‘freeports’ will be created across England to step up economic growth.

Sir Keir said: ‘The Chancellor may think that this is time for a victory lap but I’m afraid this Budget won’t feel so good for the millions of key workers who are having their pay frozen, for the businesses swamped by debt, and the families paying more in council tax.

‘And the millions of people who are out of work or worried about losing their job and although the Chancellor spoke for almost an hour we heard nothing about a long term plan to fix social care.

‘The Chancellor may have forgotten about it, but the Labour Party never will.’

It came as Sir Keir faced increased kickback against his refusal to back business tax rises.

In a scathing attack on the Opposition Leader before the Budget the New Statesman said that the party has ‘no idea what it wants’ under his leadership. 

Sir Keir has already faced criticism from the left of the party over his refusal to demand Rishi Sunak increase corporation taxes in the Budget later today – even when increases have been backed by some senior Tories. 

The Chancellor is said to be considering raising corporation tax to as much as 25 per cent from 19 per cent. 

However, there is a growing split in the party on the issue because some Labour MPs believe they should be supporting an increase, arguing it is a progressive tax that targets large firms who have thrived in the pandemic. 

In a leader column in this week’s magazine criticises Sir Keir’s position, pointing out that he campaigned for the leadership last year on a platform that included increases to corporation tax. 

Headlined ‘Lost Labour’ it said the party seems ‘increasingly troubled’ as support for the Tories grows on the back of the successful vaccine rollout.

In a scathing attack on the Opposition Leader the New Sattesman said that the party has ”no idea what it wants’ under his leadership.

‘It is possible to argue – on technical Keynesian grounds – that no tax rises should be imposed during an economic recovery. But this assertion is unlikely to persuade voters who have struggled as large corporations have thrived,’ it said.

‘In the US, President Biden has grasped the public mood by calling for a rise in corporation tax from 21 per cent to 28 per cent alongside a $1.9trillion (almost 9 per cent of GDP) stimulus programme.

‘Having fallen behind the Conservatives in the polls following the successful vaccine roll-out, Labour seems increasingly troubled. 

‘On 27 February, after Anas Sarwar became the party’s new Scottish leader, the deputy leader Angela Rayner and the shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy erroneously tweeted that he was the first ethnic-minority leader of any party (that was the Jewish Benjamin Disraeli). This was careless.

‘Perhaps no political party is as adept at reinvention as the Tories. Mr Sunak is unlikely to repeat the punitive spending cuts of the past decade. 

‘As the Conservatives reposition themselves for a new era of state intervention, the Labour Party seems to have lost confidence in what it is, what it wants and for whom it speaks.’

Sir Keir has demanded the Government rule out any tax rises on firms or families this year as the country tries to recover from the coronavirus crisis. 

And at the weekend shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds insisted ‘now is not the time for immediate tax rises’ as she hinted Labour could back a corporation tax hike in the future. 

The row comes as Labour continues to dip in the polls as the coronavirus vaccination programme continues across the UK.

At the weekend Sir Keir’s approval rating fell to its lowest level since he replaced Jeremy Corbyn last April.

A new survey conducted by Deltapoll showed Sir Keir has a net approval rating of zero. 

But Boris Johnson has continued his upward surge, with the PM pulling ahead of his counterpart for the first time since last May, recording a number of plus 10. 

Yesterday Sir Keir came under attack from hard Left elements in the party today, who urged him to listen to grassroots activists agitating for tax rises.   

The warning came in a paper co-written by Jon Trickett and Ian Lavery, who served in Jeremy Corbyn’s top team but were jettisoned by Sir Keir last April.

The pair, together with ex-MP Laura Smith, said that Sir Keir is wrong to argue against corporation tax increases ahead of Wednesday’s Budget.

In their paper, the trio said that ‘even a Tory Chancellor wants to see increases in corporation tax’, with Rishi Sunak rumoured to be considering a rise as part of the effort to reduce the coronavirus deficit.

They argued: ‘We must remember that corporation tax is a tax on big business profits – not families.

‘Having spoken to many members of the Labour movement over the last year, it is becoming clearer that the party is becoming more disconnected from its movement and values.’

The trio – all supporters of Sir Keir’s predecessor Mr Corbyn – claim that trend is ‘reflected in the wider public’ because of Labour’s inability to build an opinion poll lead.

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