Politics Uncovered newsletter: deciphering the Autumn Statement, Tory immigration difficulties & Farage's bum

This is the article-version of the Politics Uncovered newsletter from NationalWorld's politics editor Ralph Blackburn based in Westminster. You can sign up in the newsletter section.
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At the start of this week, I didn’t think I’d be seeing quite so much of Nigel Farage. The godfather of Brexit appears quite happy stuffing his face with camel udder pizza, as well as stripping off under the shower in-front of the cameras. Maybe after the show his electoral slogan will be back, crack, let’s get our country back (I’m sorry). 

Speaking of politics, my colleague Marina Licht writes that Farage is definitely using the show to elevate his status for potentially another run at becoming an MP. His seven losses in Westminster elections are a sore subject for him. He’s even suggested he might be leader of the Conservatives by 2026. In Manchester, at the party’s conference, I watched on as a gaggle of young Tories followed him everywhere.

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Thankfully for Nigel, we had one of Brexit’s great fallacies highlighted on primetime TV - even if there are two million fewer viewers than last year. First Dates maitre d’ Fred Sirieix busted Farage over the myth that Brexit would lead to less red tape, when in fact now British farmers are being undercut by EU counterparts due to the government delaying food checks. You can read more from p***ed off farmers here.

Anyway, the week veered from Farage’s bum to the Autumn Statement quite quickly. I watched from the House of Commons press gallery as Jeremy Hunt unveiled his “Autumn Statement for growth”. There were a lot of “biggest ever tax cuts” announced - biggest ever business tax cuts (I guess this applies as Hunt cancelled all of Liz Truss’ tax cuts), and the “largest ever cut to employee and self-employed national insurance”.

So taxes are down right? Well not necessarily. After the Autumn Statement, Westminster journalists packed into a small room behind the back of the Commons chamber for a briefing from Treasury officials. As the questions started, we all got handed economics watchdog the Office for Budget Responsibility's report on the Autumn Statement. Journos were busy rifling through the document to get the analysis of Hunt’s budget beyond the politics.

And it turns out, maybe, taxes aren’t actually going down. As, while the Chancellor did cut national insurance by two whole percentage points, the tax burden (compared to the overall size of the economy) is still going up. This is because of a very sexily named thing called fiscal drag. 

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A period of high inflation has pushed wages up and moved people into higher tax brackets. This is because Jeremy Hunt, he of tax cut fame further up, froze the income tax thresholds last year. Sam Robinson, from the Social Market Foundation, explains that the “cuts to national insurance rates barely touch the sides of the tax increase from frozen thresholds meaning they aren’t really a ‘cut’ at all for many households”.

The morning after the Autumn Statement, I made my daily commute to No 9 Downing Street for the press briefing. Sadly for Rishi Sunak’s official spokesman, all the hacks wanted to quiz him about was the migration figures which had been released that morning. The ONS calculated a new record net migration for December 2022 (745,000) and the latest figures showed 672,000 more people arrived in the UK than left in the 12 months to June 2023.

The problem for the Tories is they’ve now made their whole identity about tackling immigration. That’s both illegal migrants using the Rwanda scheme, which is currently still unlawful, and promising to bring legal net migration below the 184,000 it stood at at the last election. However, Brexit was never going to be a panacea which solved this issue, as we actually need a lot of immigrants to fill key jobs, in farming, the NHS and social care.

So now the government has few options to bring the figure down. It’s already stopping most students from bringing in dependents from January, and now there are reports that Robert Jenrick, immigration minister, wants to do the same for social care workers. It sounds like a good strategy to fill the 10% of vacancies we have in the crisis-riven care sector - come work in Britain, but leave your kids at home.

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Unison, the union which represents social care workers, is not particularly happy. Head of social care at the union, Gavin Edwards, told me: “Ministers are happy to demonise migrant workers to appease its right-wing backbenchers, but the truth is social care would collapse without them. Instead of causing worry and concern to migrant care workers with these proposals, the government should be delivering the funding and reform the care sector so desperately needs.”

And a union source pointed out to me, what happens when care workers, who are already here with their families, have to renew their visas. Do they have to send their kids home? The BMA is also concerned about how some of Jenrick’s proposals, to cap the number of foreign work visas, will impact the NHS. 

Dr Latifa Patel told NationalWorld: “We urge the Government to dismiss these dangerous ideas. To do otherwise will decimate the social care workforce and exacerbate issues within the wider NHS, putting further strain on an already creaking system and affecting patient care.”

Story of the week: the government has been criticised by transparency campaigners for quietly increasing the threshold for campaign donations to be declared by more than 50%. Former Lib Dem MP Tom Brake told me that voters “want to be certain that money isn’t buying political influence”.

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Quote of the week - “s*** MP”: James Cleverly furiously denied accusations he had called Stockton North a “s***hole”, when Labour MP Alex Cunningham was asking the PM about child poverty in his constituency. He’d never say that about Stockton, a source close to Cleverly admitted, he actually just called Cunningham a “s*** MP” - no big deal. After his second s**t-related controversy since becoming Home Secretary, Cleverly has apparently apologised in private.

Coming up next week - Matt Hancock: the former Health Secretary will get the chance to have his say at the Covid Inquiry, where he’s been called a “c***” repeatedly by previous witnesses. Hopefully Hancock’s language is less fruity otherwise I may wear out my * key.

This article is also sent out as a newsletter every Sunday morning. You can sign up here to Politics Uncovered, and you can follow Ralph on X (Twitter) here.

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