Make no mistake this Tory minority government is in turmoil. After weeks in hiding, the errant Chancellor of the Exchequer, aka the Elusive Pimpernel, has finally reappeared in the past few days to contradict his absent boss on Brexit and now himself.
Parliament sat for a month and a half following the general election. In that time the government brought forward one of the shortest Queen’s Speeches in history, it refused to properly debate the urgent need to raise the public sector pay cap and it dragged its feet as to when it will introduce its much-promised Summer Finance Bill. It now won’t make an appearance until the dusky summer nights are fading into autumn.
We have seen the government forced to U-turn on the “dementia tax”, the cutting of the winter fuel allowance, dropping the pension triple-lock and the illusion of another U-turn on cuts to school funding, which is just a re-hash of existing education budgets. Meanwhile, the Chancellor made sure he was nowhere to be seen while Parliament was sitting. Having been at the despatch box a grand total of two times since the State Opening of Parliament, Hammond has managed to stay in hiding until this week. The Prime Minister must regret letting him hold the reins of government while she is off on her holidays.
Instead of focusing on the economy Hammond is caught in a Tory Brexit briefing war which is consuming the government. All of this is happening while the economy is weakening. Growth has been revised down, the deficit is due to increase this year, household debt is rising, productivity is falling and wage growth continues to trail inflation.
The first step in providing economic certainty should have been the introduction of the much-promised summer Finance Bill. Theresa May’s decision to call a snap election coincided with the day of the second reading of the longest Finance Bill there has ever been. The limited parliamentary time for debate before dissolution saw many important measures dropped. At the time the government made clear it would reintroduce these measures immediately post-election, hubristically assuming it would return with an unassailable majority. Despite this pledge, the Chancellor has continuously ducked the introduction of the Bill, meaning it now won’t be tabled until September. This means several billion pounds of expected government revenue remains in doubt and taxpayers must wait to find out what they will be expected to pay.
As Parliament’s summer recess starts to drift on, we are none the wiser as to the timetable and contents of this important Bill. The Treasury continues to stall, delay and leave the businesses that will be affected by key proposals in the dark. As an opposition, we are clear that will not allow the government to force through the Finance Bill without the full debate and proper parliamentary oversight it deserves.
On returning home to Bootle, I have had the same experience as many MPs: whilst the government are sighing with relief that they’ve made it through to their summer break without completely falling apart, our hard-working public sector workers cannot share in that relief.
Teachers have waved their classes off for the summer knowing that the government will let them go into another school year with caps on their pay which mean it is rising well below their cost of living. Firefighters are looking at a tough summer ahead protecting our communities in the wake of Grenfell, while knowing that the government does not value them enough to pay them properly.
There has rarely been a time when a government has acted with so little thought for the country. As the Prime Minister enjoys her ginger beer at the end of another day of Alpine hiking, she is satisfied at having survived this long, while the rest of the country wishes the Conservatives would finally take a permanent hike and let Labour get on with the job.
Peter Dowd is the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury