Boris Johnson heads to Manchester tomorrow for the first in-person Tory conference for two years.
Delegates and MPs will descend on the Grade II-listed, four-star Midland hotel in the city centre, which boasts “sumptuous bedrooms” and an “idyllic spa”.
The Prime Minister finally gets to toast his December 2019 landslide victory with the party faithful. But the time for celebration and luxury is long past.
Instead, the conference will be overshadowed by the looming gas price-fuelled cost-of-living crisis, petrol shortages and fears of empty supermarket shelves in the run-up to Christmas – dubbed the “EFFing” crisis in government, standing for “energy, food and fuel”.
There are also worries of a potential spike in coronavirus cases as temperatures plummet and people spend more time indoors.
The fragile coalition Johnson stitched together is just that: fragile.
And in the South, Lib Dems claim they are well positioned to exploit Tory supporters’ frustrations at the PM trying to maintain his appeal to Northern voters.
Meanwhile the Conservatives are notoriously ruthless and disloyal – if they believe they would be better off with Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss, few would hesitate to dump Johnson.
The past two years have been a rollercoaster for the PM.
Since the party’s last conference in October 2019, also in Manchester, he has won that huge election victory, Got Brexit Done, divorced his second wife, married his third, had a sixth child and is expecting a seventh, almost died from coronavirus, led the pandemic response, watched a former lover reveal intimate details of their passionate extramarital affair, been engulfed in donations scandals, watched his former closest aide launch increasingly maniacal attacks on his premiership, won a stunning byelection victory in Labour heartland Hartlepool then lost another in Tory stronghold Chesham and Amersham.
Most soap opera viewers would find that amount of professional chaos and private drama utterly implausible.
And one can’t escape the feeling the whole thing is built on sand which could collapse at any moment – especially if the EFFing crisis deepens.
While preaching the fanatical blue choir in the North West, he would do well to remember the millions of ordinary Brits who fear for their family budgets as the nights shorten.
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Universal Credit is being slashed
£20 may not sound like much to some, but it’s a huge proportion of income, cutting the standard allowance for a single mum-of-one from £648 to £562 a month.
Six former Tory Work and Pensions Secretaries have opposed the cut along with debt charities, mental health groups, landlords, mortgage lenders, Citizens’ Advice, homelessness groups, unions, opposition MPs and many more.
It will kick into payments issued between October 13 and November 12 for the first time after Boris Johnson decided he couldn’t spare £5bn-a-year to keep it going.
Ministers are looking at cutting the ‘taper rate’ from 63p to 60p, allowing claimants who work to keep more of their earnings. But this won’t make up the £20 cut for most.
Energy bills have just soared
Gas and electricity prices rose for 15million households yesterday.
The energy price cap change from October 1 sees customers on default tariffs pay £139 more per year – with those on pre-payment meters paying £153 more.
For those on Universal Credit it’s a double blow. Some 40% of those claiming the benefit are on pre-payment meters, compared to 10% of non-welfare-claiming households.
The cap is the maximum amount energy suppliers will be allowed to charge customers on standard default tariffs this winter – until March 31.
The increase has been driven by soaring wholesale gas prices as the world emerges from lockdown, and it seems likely the price cap will be raised again on April 1.
Inflation is rising fast
The UK’s consumer inflation rate is now running at 3%, its highest in nine years.
That means everyday goods as well as prices in restaurants, hotels, transport, recreation, culture and household services are all soaring as the country emerges from the pandemic.
Yet most public sector wages (apart from the NHS) will remain as they are for at least the next 18 months, with no rise due in April 2022.
While the high inflation rate is good for the state pension – it looks set to rise by more than £300 next year – it is bad news for anyone with little disposable income.
The evictions ban is well and truly over
At the start of the pandemic it was virtually impossible to evict private tenants, who would have found themselves on the streets during a national lockdown.
But from October 1 in England, notice periods have reverted to their pre-pandemic levels for the first time in 18 months.
Repossession hearings restarted from September 2020, with notice periods for evictions cut down gradually over the summer.
Until last week, landlords still needed to give four months’ notice of evictions – unless there were over four months of arrears, in which case the notice period was four weeks.
Supermarket shelves could remain empty…
Anyone who’s been into a supermarket recently will be used to the occasional sight of shelves being half-stocked or missing some items.
This is due to a crippling shortage of HGV drivers, after Covid changed career patterns and Brexit deemed drivers from the EU ‘unskilled’, barring them from UK-based work.
Now the government is in panic mode, offering short-term visas to 5,000 EU lorry drivers and writing to all those with an HGV licence urging them to consider a career change.
Embarrassingly, those who received the letter included paramedics and firefighters.
Ian Wright of the Food and Drink Federation said last month: “The UK shopper could have previously expected just about every product they want to be on shelf or in the restaurant all the time. That’s over and I don’t think it’s coming back.”
… With Christmas shortages of turkey and pigs in blankets
There are fears a shortage of abattoir staff and butchers could impact supplies of food like pigs in blankets over Christmas.
Ministers are now considering plans to ease visa restrictions for up to 1,000 foreign butchers, according to the Times.
National Pig Association chairman Rob Mutimer feared the UK was heading into an “acute welfare disaster very quickly” with a “mass cull of animals” looming. He warned this would involve “disposing (of) them in the skip” rather than turning them into bacon and sausages.
Fears were also raised of a Christmas turkey shortage. Environment Secretary George Eustice said labour shortages need to be tackled to guarantee festive birds.
”Provided we can get sufficient HGV capacity and bring in the seasonal labour we need for sectors like turkeys, then yes, we will get the food for the supermarkets for Christmas,” he told BBC1’s Question Time.
Soldiers look set to be delivering fuel
After panic-buying emptied many garages of petrol and caused long tailbacks, soldiers were being trained up by the fuel industry to drive petrol tankers to forecourts.
Some 150 military drivers and a further 150 drivers’ mates were put on standby as part of Operation Escalin.
The Mirror understood that training was still under way early yesterday, and no decision to deploy the soldiers had yet been made by the Ministry of Defence.
The i News website suggested soldiers could be deployed today, though sources played that down, suggesting it was likely to only happen next week.
Despite Tory ministers insisting the crisis is easing, one, Kit Malthouse, suggested yesterday it could drag on for another week.
Furlough has just ended
Since it launched last March, furlough has supported 11.6million jobs by paying up to 80% of people’s wages – at a cost of nearly £70billion to the taxpayer.
After several extensions and a wind-down period, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has now ended the scheme from October 1 in a bid to return to normality after lockdown.
The number of people on furlough fell to 1.4million in mid-August, with 600,000 of those still fully furloughed.
But using that trend, the Resolution Foundation projected one million employees were set to still be on the scheme right up until the last moment.
Tory minister Simon Clarke admitted: “People’s jobs will be created just as some have very sadly been lost, that is the part of the process of ending this crisis and going back to normal.”
Self-employment grants have ended too
As of October 1, you can now no longer apply for Covid support if you are self-employed.
The self-employed income support scheme paid up to £7,500 over three months to freelance workers affected by Covid.
Applications for the fifth and final SEISS grant opened on July 29 and covered the period from May 2021 to September 2021.
Payments are still being processed for those that met the deadline.