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John McDonnell blasts Theresa May for 'end of austerity con' in conference speech

Emilio Casalicchio

7 min read

Labour has accused Theresa May of peddling a “complete con” after the Prime Minister declared the end of a gruelling decade of austerity in her keynote conference speech.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said the Tories had made the promise before and have already foreshadowed “many more vicious cuts” over the coming years.

Other Labour figures blasted the PM for the personal attacks she made on Jeremy Corbyn in her hour-long conference address to the Tory faithful in Birmingham.

But housing organisations and councils heaped praise on Mrs May after she announced that the borrowing cap for local authority housebuilding would be lifted - ushering in a new homes revolution.

Acknowledging that Labour's vow to end austerity has proved hugely popular with voters, Mrs May said the Tories “get it” and that the spending review next year would see a boost for public services.

“Because, a decade after the financial crash, people need to know that the austerity it led to is over and that their hard work has paid off,” she told the packed hall.

But Mr McDonnell took to Twitter to fume: “May's claim that this is an end to austerity is a complete con. The Tories have promised this before - and it was a con then too.

“The Government has already told us that spending for the next four years will be hit by many more vicious cuts. Nothing, sadly, has changed.”

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson meanwhile branded the promise “meaningless” while party chair Ian Lavery scoffed: “As long as Britain has a Conservative Prime Minister, we'll never see an end to austerity.”

Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner complained that the address was “full of personal insults against Jeremy Corbyn”.


But local authorities were left overjoyed at the announcement by the PM that the cap on the amount councils can borrow to build social housing would be lifted.

Lord Porter, chair of the Local Government Association, said: “It is fantastic that the Government has accepted our long-standing call to scrap the housing borrowing cap.

“We look forward to working with councils and the Government to build those good quality affordable new homes and infrastructure that everyone in our communities need.”

Housing charity Shelter said the announcement "lays down the gauntlet to local authorities to bring forward home-building plans – no more excuses".

CEO Polly Neate explained that the change could see almost 30,000 new social homes each year - a massive change after just 5,000 were built last year.

Gavin Smart, from the Chartered Institute of Housing, said it was “excellent news,” adding: “If we are to have any hope of tackling our national housing crisis, councils must play a critical role and this move will help them reach their potential.”

Even the Campaign to Protect Rural England said it was “welcome news for rural communities in particular, who have long required a step change in the delivery of social housing”.

Elsewhere, Mrs May won praise from the Swedish ambassador to the UK for her entrance to the conference hall – bopping along to Dancing Queen by Abba.

But Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said Mrs May was “dancing on the head of a pin, confronted by an audience full of people plotting to oust her”.

And SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said the Prime Minister “danced around the key issues – the disastrous impact of Tory austerity and a Tory hard Brexit”.


Anti-Brexit campaigners seized on the section of the speech rejecting calls for a second referendum on the deal Mrs May hopes to strike with Brussels.

The PM told delegates: “A second referendum would be a ‘politicians' vote’: politicians telling people they got it wrong the first time and should try again.”

Lord Willetts, speaking on behalf of the People's Vote campaign, said the PM dwelt on the issue of a fresh poll because "she knows it is getting more likely by the day".

He added: "It is the pragmatic and democratic response to a crisis created by the way she has been forced to negotiate Brexit proposals with ideologues in her own party rather than in the national interest.

"If the only deal on offer is a bad one for the UK, it would be a mistake to insist that it is implemented without continuing popular consent."

Other MPs weighed in to give their review of the address on Twitter - including Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, who got a favourable name-check in the speech.

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