Philip Hammond caught out after claiming living standards are rising

The Defence Secretary is forced to admit: "I haven’t got a specific measure I can quote."

While David Cameron changed tack at PMQs today and admitted that living standards are falling (but that Labour was to blame), it seems that Philip Hammond didn't get the message. The Defence Secretary told The Daily Politics:

I think living standards are starting to rise again after what has been a very, very difficult period with a huge reduction in our national income. I think everybody in this country understands that if our national income contracts by 7.5 per cent that has an impact on living standards.

But when challenged by Andrew Neil to name "any measure" that showed this, he was forced to concede:

I haven’t got a specific measure I can quote. But what’s happening is we are seeing a recovery in the economy, we’re seeing people benefitting from the measures that we’ve taken to increase the tax free personal allowance, to freeze council tax, to freeze fuel duties, so that those pressures on living standards where the government does have some direct ability are being managed. And, as the economy starts to grow again, we will see living standards continuing to recover.

The exchange continued:

AN:  Oh, continuing to recover, so you say they’re recovering, so by what measure are you using to justify the claim that living standards are now rising.

PH: Well, as our national incomes rise again, living standards will rise.

From "living standards are starting to rise" to "living standards will rise" in just one minute.

Unfortunately for the Tories, even under George Osborne's preferred measure of Real Household Disposable Income, which includes the incomes of charities and universities (and as the IFS warned, "should certainly not be used in isolation to measure how they [living standards] are changing"), living standards are forecast to fall this year. And even once they start to rise, they still almost certainly be below their 2010 level at the time of the general election.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond speaks at the Conservative conference in Manchester earlier this year. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.