Picture by Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street

Rishi Sunak’s ‘The plan is working’ spiel isn’t working

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Over the coming days, the release of new economic figures looks set to show the UK emerging from recession — a welcome development that could prompt the Bank of England to take cautious steps towards interest rate cuts.

The news would come just in time for the prime minister, whose tenacious insistence that “The plan is working” took another hit at the local elections last week. Having lost control of 10 councils and more than 470 council seats following polling day on Friday — not to mention 10 Police and Crime Commissioners and a further 10 mayoral races — the prime minister is in desperate need of stories that could yet reverse his party’s doom spiral.

That said, Sunak’s statement over the weekend in reaction to the local elections, that “Our plan is working with inflation more than halved, tax cuts worth an average of £900 hitting people’s pockets …”, would seem some distance removed from the message voters intended to send at the ballot box. And worse still for the prime minister, senior Conservative figures aren’t much buying the spin either.

Suella Braverman has so far proved the loudest of the PM’s Tory critics. On Sunday, the former home secretary voiced her regret for voting for Sunak to be Conservative leader in the first place, declaring in no uncertain terms that “The plan is not working”. Sunak, she added, must “change course” — an unsubtle euphemism for a drastic swing to the right (for those who don’t speak dispossessed cabinet minister).

But Braverman isn’t the only leading politician bashing the PM’s infamous “The plan is working” spiel. Ahead of the release of new economic figures on Friday, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves has stated her intent to rob Sunak of any potential good headlines. Delivering a speech to business leaders in the City of London this morning, she accused the PM and chancellor Jeremy Hunt of “gaslighting” the public over the state of the economy. (Gaslighting, the Oxford English Dictionary informs us, is the act of manipulating a person “by psychological means into questioning his or her own sanity”).

Here’s the key passage of Reeves’ speech: “When [the British public hears] government ministers telling them that they have never had it so good, … all they hear is a government that is deluded and completely out of touch with realities on the ground”.

The shadow chancellor added: “They say we’ve turned a corner. But try telling that to the 6.4 million households across England and Wales that last year saw their rent increase or had to re-mortgage”.

Read Reeves’ full speech here.

Interestingly, the shadow chancellor conceded that when the general election finally arrives, interest rates will be “lower”, Britain will be out of recession and inflation will have “returned to the Bank of England’s target [of two per cent]”. But no matter, Reeves continued, for improvements on the top-level economic indicators will not change the fundamentals: “The Tory legacy is a Britain that is poorer”.

Reeves will take this message to Treasury questions in the House of Commons from 2.30 pm, before appearing on The News Agents podcast late this afternoon and later still on LBC Radio from 7.00 pm. She will be competing for airtime with the prime minister himself, who also wants to talk about the economy — presumably to tell an ungrateful public that “the plan is working”.

As such, Starmer’s adept Treasury sidekick intends to allow Sunak no reprieve, however brief, after his local elections drubbing. With the PM eyeing a possible polling bounce after the release of Friday’s quarterly GDP figures, Reeves wants to explain that — despite Conservative protestations about a “volatile electorate” — voters are right to be stubbornly anti-Sunak

Indeed, with more voters than ever before predicting a Labour government after the next general election (according to a new Redfield & Wilton Strategies poll), few expect the PM’s fortunes to pick up anytime soon.

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