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Rachel Reeves’s ‘vision’ for the UK? Oh you know, bit of this and that

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BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

The alarm clock sounds in shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves’s Brighton hotel bedroom. Rachel is a passionate early riser but she’s also committed to enjoying a lie-in, so she leaps out of bed, smashes down the snooze button and takes a quick 20-minute nap, leaning against the shower wall.

She boils the miniature kettle and makes herself her usual cup of half-tea and half-coffee, then it’s off to the BBC’s Today programme studio for her big interview, ahead of her big conference speech.

There are queues at the petrol pumps, brought on by the shortage of HGV drivers. The government is somewhat split on whether to hand out thousands of visas to foreign HGV drivers, or pressurise British companies into increasing wages and offering better conditions so that British drivers do those jobs. So what would Rachel Reeves do?

“Well,” she explains, Labour would give out the necessary visas, as “people queuing at the pumps don’t care what country the driver driving their petrol tanker comes from, they just want to get where they need to go”. But she would also address the skills crisis, “skilling up” British workers so they can get the available jobs of the future.

Which means that, were it up to Rachel Reeves, all these crucial jobs would go to foreign workers because the British people don’t care about that sort of thing [they do], and also, at the same time, British people would be retrained for those jobs, which once the training is complete, would no longer be available.

Should Angela Rayner have said those nasty things about the Tories, about them being racist, homophobic, misogynistic scum? Well, she explains, I wouldn’t have said them, because I don’t say nasty things, but I can understand why people are angry. So you shouldn’t say them, but you know, if you do, then Rachel Reeves understands.

The Labour Party has tried to be all things to all people before. It has used its own mutually self-hating self as a test case for how it might resolve the similar conflicts in a mutually self-hating country but came up short. It went into the last election with no position on Brexit but instead promising a special one-day conference to come up with a policy, in which its leader – the prime minister, by this imagined point – would play no part. The consequences were not good. That it now appears to be applying this very unsuccessful template to such things as Angela Rayner’s salty comments does not augur well.

Anyway, on to the Brighton Centre for the big speech. The big idea. And here it is: Rachel Reeves is on, wait for it, “A mission to recognise and release Britain’s real wealth – the talent and effort of millions of people in every community.”

She, like Keir Starmer, is going to unlock Britain’s potential, as Starmer promised to do 18 times in his 11,000-word essay last week. The fact that Boris Johnson is on the precise same mission, having fought and won an election on that very slogan, is a problem for another day.

Reeves’s big pitch is for what she called “the everyday economy”. The bus, train and taxi drivers, the supermarket shelf stackers, the teachers, the care workers, and everyone else who works in what Nick Clegg used to call “alarm clock Britain”, for which most people thought he had gone quietly mad.

These people, apparently, aren’t going to be made to pay for the Covid recovery. The people at the top are. Rachel Reeves, to the sound of loud applause, promised “not to balance the books on the backs of working people”.

The usual suspects are going to pay for it all. Amazon, for a start. Amazon’s revenues went up by £2bn last year but their tax only went up by one per cent. “If you can afford to fly to the moon you can afford to pay your taxes here,” she said. Cue the applause. It’s boring to point out that Jeff Bezos really can’t afford to fly to the moon. He made it all of 66 miles above the earth. The “rich” don’t actually have the cash to bankroll everything.

Reeves is going to set up an “Office for Value for Money” which will make sure people in public office treat public money like they treat their own. No more moody Covid contracts for Matt Hancock’s barman. Across the conference platform, Angela Rayner looked on in delight, and did not seem to be thinking too hard about the Airpods Pro she bought with public money for £249, when the very same ones were available from Amazon for £175.

And why were they cheaper on Amazon? Well, could it possibly be that, not paying your tax means cheaper prices for customers? That, actually, people like avoiding tax? The bus drivers, the train drivers, the lorry drivers, the teachers, the care workers, the hospital workers, even the Amazon delivery drivers, are actually very happy buying things at low prices from the world’s biggest company? And the only people that don’t are the ones like, say Angela Rayner, who aren’t spending their own money so don’t really care?

There was also a rather huge pledge to spend £28bn a year on tackling the climate crisis. Which is a highly noble sentiment, but it’s possible the newly established “Office for Value for Money” might point out that, actually, there’s almost nothing at all that the tiny little UK can do about the climate crisis, a project on which it is already miles ahead of most of the rest of the world, and unless meaningful changes are secured from much larger, much more important countries, that £28bn could prove to be very poor value for money indeed.

It was, as it happens, at this precise point in the electoral cycle, 14 years ago that the then shadow chancellor George Osborne went to his own party conference and – wallop! – came out with a promise to raise the inheritance tax threshold to £1m, frightening Gordon Brown out of calling an election. He never recovered.

It is, therefore, at this point, right now, that the Labour Party has to do the same. The time for a bit of this but also that, for maybe X but also Y, is over. Politics has to start dancing to Labour’s tune. They’re a year and a half into life under a new leader and they’ve still not played one.

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