Afternoon summary

  • Business leaders have been “infuriated” by what Boris Johnson has been saying about them this week, Tony Danker, the head of the CBI, has said. (See 3.53pm.)
  • Voters preferred Sir Keir Starmer’s party conference speech to Johnson’s, a poll suggests. (See 9.31am and 11.39am.)
  • Stormont ministers have agreed to remove a legal requirement for social distancing in bars and restaurants in Northern Ireland, PA Media reports. PA says the 1-metre rule will be removed on 31 October, when nightclubs can also reopen. On that date, customers will also now be able to move around all hospitality premises freely again and dancing will once again be permitted. The executive will ask event organisers and venues to require patrons to either prove full vaccination or a negative lateral flow test or evidence of a Covid infection within the previous six months.
  • Sir Peter Bottomley, the Conservative leader of the Commons, has been criticised for saying MPs should be paid more. (See 2.49pm.)

Updated

Voters increasingly unhappy with government's performance on tax, inflation and economy, poll suggests

YouGov has published some new polling today showing a big increase within the last few weeks in the number of people thinking the government is doing badly on tax, inflation and the economy generally.

Public opinion on the government's handling of the economy, tax and inflation has become much more negative recently

% saying handling badly:
Economy: 54% (+7 from 6 Sep)
Inflation: 53% (+15)
Tax: 60% (+13)https://t.co/DanxLgTppV pic.twitter.com/Rle0x2x46d

— YouGov (@YouGov) October 7, 2021

As YouGov reports, the latest polling even suggests more people now think taxes would go up if the Conservatives win the next election than if Labour wins.

The Conservatives are losing their reputation as a low tax party - 64% of Britons think that taxes would rise under a future Tory government, but only 56% say the same of Labourhttps://t.co/DanxLgTppV pic.twitter.com/RBYBN7z2yy

— YouGov (@YouGov) October 7, 2021

Labour and the Tories are now tied 25%-25% for the party Britons think would be best on taxationhttps://t.co/DanxLgTppV pic.twitter.com/Dj16kaDHHD

— YouGov (@YouGov) October 7, 2021

But, in his write-up, YouGov’s Adam McDonnell says the Conservatives are still ahead of Labour as the party seen as best on handling the economy. He says:

As a result of these woes, the general public are now just as likely to say Labour are the best party to handle taxation as they are the Conservatives, with both parties getting 25% of the vote on this issue.

However, despite a slight narrowing, Starmer’s party are still a long way off the Tories when it comes to trust in handling the economy in general. Three in 10 (29%) think the Conservatives are best on this issue, compared to 19% who say Labour, although this still represents a tightening from 33% vs 17% in mid-September.

Updated

Business leaders 'infuriated' by what PM has been saying about them, says CBI boss

Business leaders have been infuriated by what ministers have been saying about them this week, the head of the CBI said today.

Speaking at a CBI-run online event, Tony Danker, the organisation’s director general, said his members were angered by the constant claims that they were resistant to paying their workers more and that they just wanted to go relying on cheap, foreign labour.

Boris Johnson made this one of his main arguments at the Conservative conference, accusing businesses suffering from labour shortages of just wanting to “pull the big lever marked uncontrolled immigration”.

Danker said Johnson was wrong. He explained:

If ever such a thing existed, and I don’t think it did, I honestly don’t know a business person in the country who thinks we should pull such a lever.

Danker said business leaders agreed with Johnson in wanting to see the UK economy move to a high-wage, high-skills, high-productivity model.

But he said there were several obstacles in the way, including taxation. He said:

The crisis we have is every single piece of business taxation seems to be going up and I don’t think that’s a great plan for growth.

Danker also said Labour was looking “better on business taxes” after the shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, promised to scrap “unpopular” business rates while the government has increased the national insurance levy.

He said that business leaders were “infuriated by the tone” of ministers in recent days. But he also suggested said that now the party conference season was over, the rhetoric might calm down.

Tony Danker, CBI director general.
Tony Danker, CBI director general. Photograph: Jon Super/AP

Updated

Senior Tory Peter Bottomley criticised after saying MPs should be paid more

A senior Conservative has provoked anger by arguing that MPs should be paid more.

In an interview with the New Statesman, Sir Peter Bottomley, who as the longest-serving MP is father of the house, said that for some of his colleagues trying to manage on a salary of £81,932 a year was “grim”.

In an interview with Anoosh Chakelian, he said that while he did not have any difficulties living on his salaries, that was not the case for some newer MPs. “I don’t know how they manage. It’s really grim,” he said.

Bottomley also said:

I take the view that being an MP is the greatest honour you could have, but a general practitioner in politics ought to be paid roughly the same as a general practitioner in medicine.

Doctors are paid far too little nowadays. But if they would get roughly £100,000 a year, the equivalent for an MP to get the same standard of living would be £110-£115,000 a year – it’s never the right time, but if your MP isn’t worth the money, it’s better to change the MP than to change the money.

The average GP salary in England is £100,700, the New Statesman reports.

Wes Streeting, the shadow child poverty secretary, told Radio 5 Live that he was “genuinely infuriated” by Bottomley’s comment.

Referring to the £20 per week universal credit cut being implemented this week, he said:

We are perfectly well paid, and unfortunately too many MPs on the Conservative side, at the same time as whingeing about very high – relatively high – levels of pay that MPs get in this country, at the same time they are clobbering people who are losing over £1,000 a year, which is 10% of their income in some cases.

This is my problem with the Tories – it’s not that they’re evil, bad people who go into work every day thinking ‘How can we plunge more kids into poverty?’ but, as Peter Bottomley’s comments show, they just don’t know what life is like for a hell of a lot of people in this country and they make policies that are actively hurting people who are going out, working hard, trying to make the best for their family and are really struggling.

Bottomley subsequently told LBC that he had not known the interview would be published this week, but that he stood by his remarks. He said someone such as the deputy head of a large school, or a solicitor, or the deputy general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, should be able to become an MP without having to make a major financial sacrifice.

He also said that he was not calling for MPs to be given a pay increase now, and that MPs’ pay could be increased without any extra cost to the taxpayer if the number of MPs was cut by 10%.

Peter Bottomley
Peter Bottomley Photograph: Jessica Taylor/Reuters

Updated

Campaigners have put Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, on notice that they will launch legal action within seven days over a threat to remove EU citizens from universal credit.

The3million, the organisation campaign on behalf of EU residents in the UK, sent a letter before action in relation to a judicial review application to Coffey complaining that the government’s plans to cut people off who cannot prove their right to remain in the country is going to hit thousands of vulnerable EU citizens who may not receive or understand the letter.

It follows a letter in May from the DWP to 70,000 EU citizens in receipt of universal credit warning them they could lose their benefits if they didn’t apply for settled status.

Follow-up letters say that they will be cut off on 24 October, the3million claims.

It is concerned that thousands who suffer dementia, are disabled or people who live chaotic lives will not know or understand the DWP threat and could be made “homeless or destitute”.

Lawyers for the3million argue this is in breach of equal rights legislation.

Updated

Councils tax bills in England may have to rise by 5% a year in coming years, thinktank claims

Councils in England may need to increase council tax bills by 5% a year over the next three years to meet the demands they face, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said.

In a report issued ahead of the budget coming later this month, the IFS said (bold from original text):

Under current government spending plans, council tax increases of 3.6% per year will be needed for the next three years just to ensure councils can provide the same range and quality of services in 2024–25 as was provided pre-pandemic – which already followed a decade of austerity. This would push up the average annual bill paid by households by £160 by 2024−25, or £77 after accounting for inflation. In fact, this is likely to be a minimum requirement. Bigger increases in underlying demand and cost pressures, or top-ups to other budgets (such as schools) which eat into the amount available for grants to councils, could easily push up the necessary council tax rises to 5% per year, or by over £220 by 2024–25.

The IFS also said one particular problem was that the amount being allocated by central government for social care of the next three years is unlikely to be enough. It said (bold from original text):

The government has said it will provide £5.4bn over three years to begin the roll-out of a new lifetime cap on care costs and more generous means-testing arrangements, as well as higher payments for care providers, increased support for informal carers, investment in housing adaptations and supported housing, and workforce development. Given the scale of what the government wants to achieve, this funding is unlikely to be sufficient to meet the government’s stated aims in full over the next three years.

Kate Ogden, an IFS economist and one of the report’s authors, said:

The government has stepped up with billions in additional funding for councils to support them through the last 18 months. It is likely to have to find billions more for councils over the next couple of years if they are to avoid cutting back on services, even if they increase council tax by 4% a year or more.

Updated

Prof Stephen Gorard, a leading expert on teacher recruitment and retainment at Durham University, says Boris Johnson’s offer of a £3,000 bonus for maths and science teachers to move to schools in disadvantaged areas is unlikely to make a difference. He says:

Our reviews of the best available evidence on this topic show that temporary or one-off payments might encourage some teachers to move to hard-to-staff schools. But they will tend to remain there only for as long as they have to - £3,000 is not enough to change teachers’ lives and uproot their families.

Sturgeon says it was 'outragreous' Johnson did not mention universal credit cut in speech

At first minister’s questions in Edinburgh, in response to a question from the SNP MSP Jim Fairlie, who said Boris Johnson’s comments about the pig industry this week were “outragreous and condescending”, Nicola Sturgeon said she agreed. She told the Scottish parliament:

I do think it was deeply regrettable that the prime minister treated the very serious issues of animal welfare with such disdain on Sunday [in his Andrew Marr interview], just as I think it was outrageous that he made an entire speech to his party conference yesterday and did not mention the fact that on that very day his government had taken away £20 a week from the poorest families across the country.

Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon Photograph: Scottish parliament

In an interview with Sky News this morning Ed Miliband, the shadow business secretary and former Labour leader, claimed that Boris Johnson’s conference speech yesterday showed that he was in denial. He explained:

The prime minister’s speech yesterday was a masterclass in Boris Johnsonism, which is big, windy rhetoric, some decent jokes - but families watching that speech will be scratching their heads and thinking, ‘Why wasn’t he talking about the cost of living crisis I’m facing? Why wasn’t he talking about the supply chain crisis?’

In fact, he’s saying ‘Crisis, what crisis?’ Why isn’t he talking about the fact that we’ve seen rising prices, that we’re seeing universal credit being cut?

I thought it was a prime minister in denial and frankly living in a parallel universe.

And I think the reaction from businesses is informative because I think they thought this was a speech of somebody who wasn’t simply not in touch with ordinary families around the country, but also small and medium sized, and indeed large, businesses who are facing the toughest of times.

So I thought it was a prime minister who seemed unaware of what most people are facing.

Ed Miliband
Ed Miliband Photograph: Sky News

EU urges UK to drop rhetoric in Northern Ireland Brexit row

The EU has urged the UK to drop the “political rhetoric” in the row over Brexit negotiations for Northern Ireland, revealing it will make what it described as “far-reaching proposals” to break the impasse next week, my colleague Lisa O’Carroll reports.

Welsh Tory leader says he is taking time off work after Covid affected his mental wellbeing

Andrew RT Davies, the Welsh Conservative leader, has said that he is taking a complete break from work because he has been ill with flu and Covid and it has affected his mental wellbeing. In a statement, he says that as a leader it is important to set an example, and that it is important, particularly for men, to acknowledge when they are having problems of this kind.

Statement. pic.twitter.com/fyqDUXiKFj

— Andrew RT Davies (@AndrewRTDavies) October 7, 2021

Updated

Johnson picks navy chief as head of British armed forces

Boris Johnson has selected the head of the navy for the first time in 20 years as the next chief of Britain’s armed forces, a choice intended to reinforce the UK’s post-Brexit switch in focus to the Indo-Pacific region, my colleague Dan Sabbagh reports.

Kwarteng claims shift to renewable energy will eventually bring prices down

Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, has said that the transition to renewable energy will protect consumers from sudden price increases of the kind consumers are experiencing at the moment. He also claimed that eventually it would lead to lower prices.

Speaking at a conference organised by the trade body Energy UK, Kwarteng said:

The UK so far, as many of you know, has made great progress in diversifying our energy mix. But we are still very dependent, perhaps too dependent, on fossil fuels and their volatile prices.

Referring to the government’s commitment this week for all UK electricity to come from renewable sources by 2035, he said:

Our homes and businesses will be powered by affordable, clean and secure electricity generated here in the UK, for people in the UK.

Relying on homegrown power generation will protect consumers from gas price fluctuations.

And it will, in the long run, bring down bills. We will use the wealth of Britain’s natural resources to deliver cleaner, cheaper power.

Kwasi Kwarteng speaking at an event at the Conservative party conference on Monday.
Kwasi Kwarteng speaking at an event at the Conservative party conference on Monday. Photograph: James McCauley/REX/Shutterstock

Updated

An estimated 405,000 people in private households in the UK have experienced self-reported long Covid that has lasted for at least a year, PA Media reports. PA says:

This is up slightly from 384,000 in a similar survey carried out a month earlier.

The figures, from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), are based on responses collected in the four weeks to 5 September.

They also suggest a total of 1.1 million people in the UK experienced long Covid during the period of the survey, defined as symptoms persisting for more than four weeks after their first suspected coronavirus infection. This is up from 970,000 in the previous survey.

Here is more on the Opinium polling from last night suggesting that voters preferred Sir Keir Starmer’s conference speech to Boris Johnson’s.

Opinium released the figures for their poll on the Starmer speech last week. This is how they compare with the figures for Johnson.

Agreed with what he had to say

Starmer

Agreed: 63%

Disagreed: 29%

Net: +34

Johnson

Agreed: 51%

Disagreed: 41%

Net: +10

Came across as strong

Starmer

Strong: 57%

Weak: 26%

Net: +31

Johnson

Strong: 53%

Weak: 30%

Net: +23

Seemed to care about ordinary people

Starmer

Cares: 68%

Doesn’t care: 19%

Net: +49

Johnson

Cares: 46%

Doesn’t care: 42%

Net: +4

Seemed to be in touch with people’s concerns

Starmer

In touch: 60%

Out of touch: 29%

Net: +31

Johnson

In touch: 44%

Out of touch: 45%

Net: -1

Seemed interesting

Starmer

Interesting: 41%

Boring: 28%

Net: +13

Johnson

Interesting: 40%

Boring: 22%

Net: +18

The two surveys involved showing people a video with highlights from the speech, and then asking them questions based on what they had seen. Both surveys involved around 1,300 respondents, and the results were weighted to make them representative of the population.

Zahawi says he wants pupils to catch up on missed Covid learning by end of this parliament

In his morning interviews Nadhim Zahawi also answered questions relating to his job as education secretary. Here are the key points.

  • He said he wanted pupils to catch up on the learning they had missed during the pandemic by the end of this parliament. He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain:

My pledge to your viewers and the country, as the prime minister pledged, is children will catch up by the end of this parliament.

  • He said the 300,000 CO2 monitors promised to schools to allow them to monitor ventilation would be delivered by the end of November. He said several thousand had already been delivered, and up to 90,000 would arrive by the end of this month. Asked why delivery of the monitors was taking so long, when they were promised in August, he said:

I think it’s – obviously I’ve only been in department for two weeks – but I think it’s a combination of supply and making sure we’ve got supply, and then working with schools to see how many they need in each school. But we are ramping up through this month and next month.

  • He hinted that his spending review negotiations with the Treasury might produce more money for teachers’ pay. Asked about the current pay freeze, he said the government was still committed to raising starting salaries to £30,000 by 2023. He went on:

I’m in the middle of a spending review negotiation with the Treasury and we’ll say more about this in a couple of weeks time when that spending review is completed ...

There is a pay freeze at the moment. But I have a pay review body that looks at pay in the same way that the health service and the health secretary has a pay review body that looks at pay.

And when they make a recommendation, I will look at that recommendation. That’s what I’m saying to you.

Updated

In an interview with ITV’s Good Morning Britain Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, said he thought it was unfair to criticise Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, for singing Time of My Life at a conference party on Tuesday night, only hours before the £20 per week universal credit cut took effect.

He said that “parties and dance-offs and singing” were a feature of party conferences, and that Coffey had secured the extra £500m to help those affected by the cut that was announced last week. He said:

I think [it’s] slightly unfair to sort of link [Coffey’s singing] with what we’re trying to do to help the most needy with that half a billion that we announced just as we were getting to party conference.

Nadhim Zahawi on ITV’s Good Morning Britain this morning.
Nadhim Zahawi on ITV’s Good Morning Britain this morning. Photograph: ITV/REX/Shutterstock

Zahawi denies suggestion government at war with business

Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, was doing the morning interview round for No 10 today.

Asked if the government was “on a warpath” with business, Zahawi told Sky News he did not agree. He went on:

What I would say to everybody is look, let’s work together.

We have seen retailers who invested in technology and have done really well. Others like Topshop and Topman didn’t make that investment and haven’t done so well.

We’ve seen SMEs take advantage [of] £100bn of grants and loans to support SMEs. That is what this government is doing to help business.

Updated

Richard Walker, managing director of the supermarket chain Iceland, has become the latest business figure to criticise Boris Johnson’s approach to business. Walker, who voted for Brexit, is quoted in the Times today (paywall) accusing the government of treating the business sector like an “endless sponge” because it is expected to absorb rising taxes and other higher costs.

In an interview on the Today programme this morning he expanded on this, saying that it was not helpful for Johnson to blame business for driver shortages. Asked about Johnson’s stance, he said:

I don’t think it’s particularly helpful at the moment. I mean business is dealing with so much and so many different crises which has all compounded at once. So, pointing the finger and choosing us as the bogeymen for issues such as HGV driver shortages - which is multifaceted and systemic - is simply not helpful ...

I think at the moment, all of these cost pressures are coming just at a time where they’ll [the government] be withdrawing the £20 universal credit allowance, which some of our customers really rely on. So, yes, I think it’s kind of a double-ended problem, and it’s inevitable that we will see price rises.

The UK supermarket industry is one of the most competitive in the world. Our margins are very, very tight and we’re not an endless sponge that can just absorb all of these different cost increases.

Voters preferred Keir Starmer’s conference speech to Boris Johnson’s address, poll suggests

Good morning. Boris Johnson’s conference address got a very warm reception at the Conservative party conference yesterday, but speeches don’t always age well and since then the doubts about it have been firming up. Even some of the rightwing papers have been expressing reservations.

And last night Opinium released polling suggesting that Sir Keir Starmer’s conference speech made a better impression. Here are the key charts.

🚨BREAKING🚨

The results from our snap poll on Johnson's speech.

The verdict - positive, although not as positive as Starmer's.

% who think he came across as:
Strong - 53%
Competent - 49%
Cares about ordinary people - 46%
In touch with people’s concerns - 44%
Interesting - 40% pic.twitter.com/LMfrjOtn2r

— Opinium (@OpiniumResearch) October 6, 2021

Across all metrics (apart from "interesting") Johnson's speech performed worse than Starmer's speech last week.

Notably, 55% say they agreed with what Johnson had to say (compared to 63% for Starmer).

41% disagreed with what he had to say (compared to 29% for Starmer). pic.twitter.com/hy8cODfdFy

— Opinium (@OpiniumResearch) October 6, 2021

Part of the reason for that is that Johnson is a more divisive political figure.

But his speech still did a good job at keeping his election winning coalition happy.

80% of Conservative 2019 voters say they agreed with what he had to say, just 16% disagreed. pic.twitter.com/bUriNPzwdb

— Opinium (@OpiniumResearch) October 6, 2021

Polling should always be treated with some caution, and these figures are particularly tentative because, according to Sky News, which commissioned the poll, respondents only saw excerpts from the speeches. Almost no one watches party conference speeches in full, and the impact they make is determined by what people read or hear about them via the media, and that is still unfolding.

Still, on this measure at last, Johnson has been beaten by the man he dubbed “the human weathervane, the Starmer chameleon”.

For good round-up of how the papers are reporting the speech, do read the summary in Politico’s London Playbook, which is particularly thorough.

Parliament is still in recess and it looks as if it will be a quiet day at Westminster. Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, is speaking at an energy conference, Maroš Šefčovič, the EU’s lead Brexit negotiator, is giving a speech on the Northern Ireland protocol, and ministers are expected to announce a change to the Covid travel red list this afternoon.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Alternatively, you can email me at andrew.sparrow@theguardian.com

Updated

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