Hammond Makes Corbyn the Bogeyman in Speech Thin on Brexit

  • Chancellor attacks Labour leader’s ‘Marxist’ policies
  • Business lobbies left unimpressed by lack of ‘red meat’

U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond would usually use his keynote speech at the Conservative Party conference to set out new economic policies ahead of the Autumn Budget. This time there was hardly any of that, or of Brexit. It was dominated by Jeremy Corbyn.

The 35-minute address was a series of warnings against the Labour leader’s “Marxist” policies, with Corbyn mentioned at least 12 times in the same breath as regimes such as North Korea, Zimbabwe, Cuba and Venezuela. Brexit, the dominant political challenge, only got four mentions.

Philip Hammond on Oct. 2.

Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

For years, Corbyn and his shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, were “treated almost as museum pieces dinosaurs, worth preserving for the sake of historical curiosity,” Hammond told the audience of party faithful in Manchester.

But last week, at Labour’s own party gathering, “the dinosaurs had broken out of their glass cases, their political DNA apparently uncontaminated by any contact with the reality of 30 years of global economic development ready to wreak havoc fighting the battles of the past using the language of the past, all over again, a sort of political version of Jurassic Park,” he said.

McDonnell responded by calling it “a speech that contained more baseless smears on Labour than Tory policy announcements. But it betrays how fearful the Tories are of the challenge posed by Jeremy Corbyn.”  

The reaction in the room was subdued, mirroring the mood of a conference focused more on propping up a weakened leader than energizing a tired electorate. Hammond was more effusive in his praise of “dynamic” Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson than his boss, Prime Minister Theresa May -- even cracking a joke about how assertive the Scot is with him.

Read more about the contrast with the atmosphere at the Labour conference

Even the audience Hammond was most keen to court with his defense of free markets were left relatively unimpressed. Business leaders were quick to warn they expect more substance in Nov. 22’s Budget from a government that the Confederation of British Industry said was "strong on diagnosis, but weak on action."

"Actions speak louder than words," Stephen Martin, director general of the Institute of Directors, said after the speech. "There was little red meat for business leaders today, and if he wants to unleash the nation’s potential, he must use the budget to boost investment by individuals and companies."

With the Tories beset by continued splits over Brexit and speculation over May’s future, investors are watching the party conference closely. The pound fell against the dollar for the sixth time in seven days.

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