This week's Who's Top Who's Not Autumn Statement special takes you through the highs and lows of another busy week in Parliament. How did the Chancellor fair?
Flying high: Selaine Saxby, Alison Thewliss and Tracey Crouch
The trio you never knew this country needed. It was anything but a pants Autumn Statement for those leading the charge in Parliament to make sustainable period underwear VAT free, after the Chancellor confirmed on Wednesday that the government would be abolishing the 20% tax. These women were amongst the most prominent supporters of the campaign, which was led by Marks and Spencer and leading brand, WUKA, with support from retailers, charities and business leaders.
Thanks to numerous interventions by these MPs in the chamber, this issue stood out amongst many others, with the success of this campaign demonstrating just how effective it can be to build a coalition of cross-sector and cross-party support. The campaign also raised awareness of women’s health, sustainable alternatives, and the challenges faced by small, independent businesses, which together created a pretty powerful movement. This landmark victory means that from January 2024, reusable period underwear will be subject to the same VAT zero rate relief as other sanitary products.
Middle ranking: Jeremy Hunt
He claimed that his 110 measures in the Autumn Statement would help “grow the economy faster” but beneath the rhetoric, official forecasts painted a less-than-rosy picture for the Chancellor and his Tory government. In their Economic and Fiscal Outlook, the Office for Budget Responsibility said that the UK economy will grow more slowly than expected over the next two years, and inflation is not expected to hit the 2% target until the second quarter of 2025.
Hunt and the Prime Minister will hope that the estimated £20 billion worth of tax cuts in the Statement will be a gamechanger for the party's re-election prospects but delve deeper and all the cuts combined will only knock half a percentage point off a tax burden that is creeping towards a post-war high. With the general election looming, expect more substantial tax cuts next year in the Spring Budget.
There were some welcome announcements on funding to help grow the sectors of the future, including clean energy, life sciences and digital technology, as well as a freeze on alcohol duties until August 2024. But with many fearing these measures do not go far enough to ease the cost-of-living crisis, it may be too soon to raise a glass to the Chancellor just yet.
Slowly sinking: James Cleverly
This week should have been all about the Chancellor and his plans to put the Conservatives back on track, but Hunt found himself sharing the headlines with his cabinet colleague (and they weren’t pretty).
During Prime Minister’s Questions, the Home Secretary allegedly called Stockton North a s***hole in response to a question posed by Labour MP Alex Cunningham. Cleverly denies uttering the appalling remark, but eventually changed his mind and said he was taking aim at the MP himself, not the constituency. Readers can decide for themselves which account seems the more plausible.
Others accused Cleverly of “Tory gaslighting”. On Thursday, the Mayor of Tees Valley and long-time ally of the PM, Ben Houchen, demanded an apology from Cleverly for reinforcing “outdated” and “inaccurate” stereotypes of the region. This particular seat may be Labour, but the Tories have a huge challenge in holding on to other nearby ‘red wall' seats and remarks like this will certainly not help other Conservative colleagues.