Boris Johnson sets out to defend record on farewell tour

Dorset maybe as far West as he comes, no obvious successes to celebrate in Devon – Owl

George Grylls www.thetimes.co.uk

Boris Johnson will kick off a farewell tour of Britain today as he spends his last week as prime minister highlighting his achievements in 10 Downing Street.

Johnson will travel to Dorset to trumpet his government’s record expanding broadband to rural communities.

When Johnson took over as prime minister, only 7 per cent of households had gigabit broadband. That number has risen to 70 per cent today.

“From Sherborne to Stirling, lightning-fast broadband is levelling up towns and villages across the country,” Johnson will say in a speech today. In just three years we have increased the coverage of gigabit broadband from 7 per cent of households to 70 per cent.

“I am proud that today more than 20 million households, businesses and organisations are able to tap into rapid and reliable internet, unleashing their potential, creating opportunities and driving growth across the country.”

The target date in the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto to supply gigabit broadband to every home and business across the UK was 2025. This date will be missed, and some households will instead have to wait until 2030 before they are hooked up with fast internet.

Johnson’s visit to Dorset will celebrate work beginning on the first major contract awarded under the government’s £5 billion Project Gigabit.

After his visit to the southwest, Johnson will embark on a tour of other parts of Britain this week.

He boasts about the progress the government has made in recruiting police officers, another manifesto pledge. The culmination of the week will be a speech on energy in which Johnson intends to highlight his achievements in nuclear power and wind energy.

“There is a lot of stuff that he can feel rightly proud of,” a No 10 source said. One of Johnson’s most outspoken critics, however, predicted that despite the messages appearing to signal his departure from frontline politics, the prime minister would attempt to make a comeback.

Rory Stewart, the former international aid secretary, likened Johnson to Silvio Berlusconi and Donald Trump, both of whom are trying to force their way back into politics having been ousted from office.

“I’m afraid he has an extraordinary ego and he believes that he was badly treated,” Stewart told BBC Radio 4.

“He doesn’t see the reality, which is that he was a terrible prime minister and that he lost his job because of deep flaws of character. I fear we’re going to end up with a second Berlusconi or a second Trump trying to rock back in again.”

As Johnson tours the UK, Nadhim Zahawi will be in the US to take part in meetings on global energy security in what is likely to be his last week as chancellor.

He will visit New York to discuss the international competitiveness of the City of London following post-Brexit deregulation, and will then travel to Washington DC for meetings with US Treasury officials.

“I’m determined, here in the US, to work closely with my allies on the common challenges we face to create a fairer and more resilient economy at home and abroad,” he said.

Brewers warn of mass closures – send for Simon Jupp!

[Tough, “no hand-outs” Liz drinks fizz – Owl]

From Today’s Western Morning News

Cornish brewery giant St Austell Brewery has joined fellow industry leaders in warning of widespread closures of pubs and brewers as prices soar.

Bosses of six of the UK’s biggest pub and brewing companies have signed an open letter to the Government urging it to act in order to avoid “real and serious irreversible” damage to the sector.

St Austell Brewery are joining Greene King, JW Lees, Carlsberg Marston’s, Admiral Taverns and Drake & Morgan in sounding the alarm today, with fears of price hikes upwards of 300%.

Soaring energy bills have added to inflationary pressures on the sector, which like other industries is not protected by the regulated price cap that applies to domestic gas and electricity bills.

The bosses, who sit on the board of the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), have demanded the Government implement an urgent support package that effectively caps the price of energy for businesses.

Brewers also face supply concerns over CO2, used in the production of some beer, after CF Fertilisers, one of the UK’s biggest CO2 producers, revealed it will halt production at its remaining UK ammonia site due to rocketing costs.

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the BBPA, said the rise in energy costs “will cause more damage to our industry than the pandemic did”.

She added: “Consumers will now be thinking even more carefully about where they spend their money. There are pubs that weathered the storm of the past two years that now face closure because of rocketing energy bills.”

She’s Frit!

Liz Truss accused of ‘running scared’ after pulling out of BBC interview

Liz Truss has been accused of “running scared” of scrutiny after pulling out of a BBC interview scheduled for Tuesday, meaning she is likely to become prime minister without undergoing a single set-piece broadcast quizzing.

Peter Walker www.theguardian.com 

Earlier this month the foreign secretary agreed to a primetime interview with the veteran political journalist Nick Robinson on BBC One, something already done by Rishi Sunak, her rival to succeed Boris Johnson as Conservative party leader.

But a BBC spokesperson said Truss had now cancelled the interview. “Ms Truss’s team say she can no longer spare the time to appear on Our Next Prime Minister,” they said. “We regret that it has not been possible to do an in-depth interview with both candidates despite having reached agreement to do so.”

In a tweet, Robinson said he had been pleased that Truss had agreed to the interview and he was “disappointed and frustrated it’s been cancelled”.

A source in Sunak’s campaign said their tally showed Truss had done just two broadcast interviews of any form during the campaign, whereas Sunak had undertaken nine, also including three spots on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and an appearance on ITV’s This Morning.

The source said: “It’s important that candidates face proper scrutiny so that members and the public know what they are offering. Avoiding that scrutiny suggests either Truss doesn’t have a plan at all or the plan she has falls far short of the challenges we face this winter.”

Wendy Chamberlain, the Liberal Democrats’ chief whip, said: “Liz Truss is running scared of the media and proper public scrutiny. How can she lead our country through an economic crisis when she can’t even cope with a basic media interview?

“She wants to follow in Margaret Thatcher’s footsteps but she’s fallen at the first hurdle. She’s fighting for the highest office by answering the lowest number of difficult questions.”

Labour also criticised Truss for backing out. Conor McGinn, the shadow minister without portfolio, said: “The British public don’t get a say in choosing the next Tory prime minister and now it seems Liz Truss wants to avoid any public scrutiny whatsoever.

“People will rightly conclude that she doesn’t want to answer questions about her plans for the country because she simply hasn’t got any serious answers to the big challenges facing our country.”

Truss’s tactic of avoiding scrutiny mirrors that of Boris Johnson, who before the Conservative victory in the December 2019 general election declined a BBC interview with Andrew Neil, something faced by rivals including the then Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

Truss has appeared at a series of Conservative hustings events around the UK in recent weeks and faced some difficult questions from the various hosts, although less so from the audiences made up of party members.

But longer-form interviews, in which a candidate can be pushed repeatedly on their answers, are viewed as considerably more difficult.

During some hustings events, Truss has been critical of the media, and of the BBC specifically, accusing some outlets of trying to “talk our country down” and having a leftwing bias.

Truss’s campaign was contacted for comment.

Just when you think it couldn’t get any worse… the return of “Vulcan”

(aka John Redwood)

A Ms Truss campaign insider told the Telegraph that the leadership hopeful thinks that the country’s current economic strategy has “failed” and said she won’t be captured by “Treasury groupthink”. 

The European Research Group (ERG), who are key backers of Ms Truss’ campaign, has tipped Mr Redwood for a role in the Treasury, with one senior member telling The Express that he would be a “superb choice” as Chancellor of the Exchequer. www.bracknellnews.co.uk

No comfort from voices of reason and experience

Liz Truss would “completely crash the public finances” if she pushed ahead with tens of billions of pounds of tax cuts, a senior economist has warned.

Liz Truss’s plan to cut VAT would crash economy, warns expert

Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, accused Truss of adopting a “simplistic mantra” of cutting taxes to solve the cost of living crisis. He said the policies being discussed by her team were “quite worrying”.

He told The Times that a proposal to cut VAT was “inappropriate” and risked exacerbating inflation, not taming it. Johnson also said the Bank of England would raise interest rates more quickly if Truss pressed ahead with the cuts….

…Johnson said the economic picture was different from when Gordon Brown announced an emergency VAT cut of 2.5 percentage points in 2009, and questioned the economic reasoning for such a measure.

“It made sense to have a temporary cut in VAT in the financial crisis because there was a huge drop in demand and a big recession without much in the way of inflation,” he said.

“It might reduce inflation temporarily, but it clearly increases it at the point at which the VAT cut is undone.”

He said there was a greater case to raise income tax thresholds, given that the Treasury had expected to generate £8 billion from the “stealth tax” when it was announced this year. As a result of inflation, the freeze in income tax thresholds is set to raise £20 billion.

Johnson said that no matter the tax cuts, support for energy bills would need to be given to people on low and modest incomes and he questioned the need for an immediate slashing of income tax on top of other measures.

“You clearly can’t do all of this without completely crashing the public finances,” he said. “This simplistic mantra that you cut taxes and the economy grows more, that you cut taxes when you have a big deficit and high inflation, and you don’t do it with any other part of the plan, is quite worrying.”

He added that a large deficit could push up borrowing costs. “The markets for a decade have been willing to fund very high deficits. The risk comes if we start on a very different route to other countries and we look riskier than they are,” he said.

George Grylls www.thetimes.co.uk (Extract)

Bold action needed now on energy bills, says Alistair Darling

“You need something significant and substantial and you need it now, because people’s bills are going to start coming in in a few weeks’ time.”

Darling, who served as chancellor under Gordon Brown, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“If you don’t do that then you have the risks that I’ve been describing, that the economy will slip into recession, with all that entails. And when you’ve got that on top of the fact you’ve got inflation already at very, very high levels we haven’t seen since the 1970s, this is a lethal cocktail, which is why it needs bold action taken by the government now, not fiddling around with small measures that frankly won’t make any difference at all.”

While the government has already offered some support to households, Darling said this was now far from sufficient to meet the scale of the crisis.

He said: “Frankly, the stuff that’s been announced so far might have passed muster earlier this year. It simply won’t do now. You need something far more substantial than that unless you are willing to see substantial damage being done to our economy.”

A lesson from 2008 was that “you’ve got to do more than people expect and you’ve got to do it more quickly than people expect if it’s going to work”, Darling said.

“It’s going to cost money. When I announced the package in 2008 when it was the banking crisis, it amounted in total to about £500bn, but actually we got all of that money back over the following years. So what I think we need to see today from the government, from the new prime minister, is measures that will be big enough to deal with this.”

Peter Walker www.theguardian.com (Extract)