For the Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds, the Summer Statement presented a momentous career moment, being her most high-profile appearance at the despatch box so far. The job of delivering the on-the-hoof Opposition response to the Chancellor’s statement is notoriously difficult, but Dodds’ challenge was made even harder given the set of measures being announced more resembled the spending habits of a Labour government. The Opposition’s adopted position of avoiding criticism for criticism’s sake in favour of a more constructive approach during this unprecedented crisis, made her job on the main stage harder still.
So how did she fare? Whilst applauding the measures to boost youth employment and subsidise eating out, Dodds did well to contextualise these undeniably positive fiscal measures within the wider fractured public health response. She emphasised that fear was the key source of economic damage, which is not being adequately addressed. Fear, she stated, is eroding the public’s confidence and psychological security that will be essential in willing people to feel comfortable returning to work, shops, cafés and restaurants which is needed to get the economy going again.
She pointed out the failure, despite throwing huge sums of money at it, to create a fully functional test, track and trace system. She also criticised the Government’s failure to create a clear system for local lockdowns and to get a full grip on the limited scope and value of sick pay, which is inhibiting many from being able to self-isolate in line with public health guidance. She also criticised the re-employment bonus for the very real risk that it will simply go to employers already planning to re-hire their staff, pointing out that the lack of a targeted and more flexible approach to the job retention scheme is jeopardising jobs and businesses which would otherwise be economically viable in future.
Making a strong impression as Shadow Chancellor in these circumstances, with these fiscal measures to work with, would be challenging for anyone. Dodds did well to welcome the Government’s measures whilst pointing out their insufficiency in the context of very real psychological and public health barriers and the failure to create a more effective job retention system.
Time will tell as to whether she could have offered more scrutiny when it mattered. Though some may see her conciliatory style as a warning sign of weakness, others may view this as a much needed, fresh approach when compared with the divisive nature reminiscent of Corbynite politics. An approach which unites from a politician who is known to be well liked across all factions of the Labour party could, in fact, be just what the doctor ordered.