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‘What a day!’: Chancellor admits tough time after plan caused ‘a little turbulence’

The chancellor has admitted it has been a tough day after he was forced to U-turn on cutting income tax for the rich.

Kwasi Kwarteng began his keynote speech at the Conservative Party conference by saying: “What a day, it has been tough but we need to focus on the job in hand.”

Just hours earlier he announced he was ditching plans to remove the 45p rate of income tax for the wealthiest 1%, unveiled at the mini-budget 10 days ago.

And after his speech, it was revealed Mr Kwarteng is bringing forward his medium-term financial statement from 23 November to this month, despite this morning saying he would not.

He admitted to Tory members his economic plan had caused “a little turbulence” but continued to back his vision for growth, saying: “With economic growth, everybody benefits, and I mean, everybody.”

Chancellor vows ‘no more distractions’ – follow live updates from Birmingham

In his original speech, before the U-turn, he had been set to say the government must “stay the course”.

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But after acknowledging the change briefly, he said the government was ploughing ahead with boosting economic growth across the UK.

“We need to move forward. No more distractions. We have a plan and we need to get on and deliver it. That is what the public expect from the government,” he told Tory members in Birmingham.

“We’ve done it before and we can do it again.”

The chancellor said the path the country was on was “unsustainable” and said “we had no choice, the price of inaction would have been far greater than the cost of the scheme”.

And he said his plan to cut taxes to boost growth “isn’t radical, isn’t irresponsible” and will put more money in people’s pockets.

British Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng speaks during Britain's Conservative Party's annual conference in Birmingham, Britain, October 3, 2022. REUTERS/Toby Melville

So much left unsaid

Sky News’ deputy political editor Sam Coates said: “There was just so much not addressed so you were left thinking what was it he wanted people to take away from that?

“At this conference, they’re desperate to try to get some political credit for the £45bn they’ve committed to spending.”

He added that the chancellor did not mention how the plan is fiscally responsible and if it is staying within their budget.

Coates also said one of the biggest political challenges over the next 18 months will be the consequence of higher interest rates but there was “not a word about that either”.

Read more:

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Stony faces in quiet audience as chancellor gives little detail in dull speech

The chancellor’s speech was most interesting for what he didn’t say.

We heard the familiar refrain that this is a government that will “do things differently”, that growth is the big priority, that tax cuts are the way forward.

But there was no acknowledgement of a screeching U-turn on the 45p tax cut, and little detail on how “fiscal discipline” will be achieved.

There was no contrition, beyond an admission it had been a “tough” day.

Under the circumstances, it was a pretty dull speech; the conference audience was polite, but fairly quiet.

Then again, it may be that not making new news lines was the best possible outcome for Kwasi Kwarteng.

The loudest applause came when the chancellor talked about Brexit and Ukraine.

Red meat for the membership, but when he said this government “will always be on the side of people who need help the most” the applause was muted.

Ministers in the front row cheered loudly, but behind them there were stony faces.

His words are at odds with claims his plans disproportionately favour the wealthy: tax cuts for the richest, ending the cap on bankers’ bonuses amidst speculation about welfare cuts.

The front bench will have to do more than just cheer loudly if they are going to convince those who think they are the party of the rich.

The chancellor’s first words to the conference hall were “what a day!” and he was not wrong.

It was an extraordinary context for a chancellor’s conference speech.

Crisis talks last night led to the screeching U-turn on the government’s plans to cut the 45p top rate of tax.

The PM was the first to applaud on the front row – the trouble for her is she has portrayed herself as an unwavering, steely leader who is willing to push through unpopular decisions.

Can she credibly maintain that claim after what’s happened today?

Most bizarre speech I’ve ever heard

Labour MP Chris Bryant told Sky News he had “never heard such an uninspiring speech from a chancellor”.

“That’s the most extraordinary thing, condemning the fact that we have very low growth at the moment and that we’ve had had it for the last 12 years compared with the Labour years,” he added.

“He was complaining about the high tax rate, even though he’s voted for all the 15 rises in taxes over the last few years. It’s just the most bizarre speech I’ve ever heard.”

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Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said the speech showed the chancellor and government are “completely out of touch, with no understanding on its own appalling record on growth”.

She said the budget is “an economic crisis made in Downing Street, paid for by working people” and called for them to reverse the budget “and abandon their discredited, dangerous trickle down approach”.

British Prime Minister Liz Truss, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Nadhim Zahawi and Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Therese Coffey attend Britain's Conservative Party's annual conference in Birmingham, Britain, October 3, 2022. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Image:
Liz Truss, flanked by deputy PM Therese Coffey and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Nadhim Zahawi applauded the chancellor’s speech

Sarah Olney, the Lib Dem’s Treasury spokeswoman, said Mr Kwarteng’s speech will bring “cold comfort” to struggling households.

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