This is no time for the faint-hearted. With less than a week to go before polling day, it is time within the Labour ranks to put aside factionalism, internal squabbling and jockeying for post-election positions – not least the Leadership – premised on electoral failure. There is one chance to stop Theresa May continuing her inept Tory strategy of austerity to fund the lifestyles of the rich and infamous.
The prime minister has been panicked into effectively relaunching her party’s manifesto amid splits and recriminations amongst her top echelons of unelected and untalented strategists and “doorkeepers” who have kept her isolated from the rank and file.
And no wonder – the Tory campaign has been based on lies over com- petence coupled with scare-mongering over Brexit and the Manchester horror.
The former was confirmed by the influential think tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies which pointed to the paucity of tax or spending commitments in their manifesto. And those that are there are just rehashes of spending cuts outlined in the omnishambles of the March Budget. Overall, the IFS said the Tory plans “imply at least another five years of austerity, with the continuation of planned welfare cuts and serious pressures on the public services including on the NHS”. Big cuts to working-age welfare benefits would save £11bn annually by 2021-22, but would significantly cut the incomes of the poorest working age households.
The Tories have not specified any additional funding for the NHS, guaranteeing an ongoing crisis if they are re-elected. Their plans on schools will mean real terms cuts to per pupil spending. As John McDonnell said: “The only numbers we saw in the Tory manifesto were the page numbers.”
Cut through the rhetoric, and we can see a re-jigged manifesto that offers the majority of working people and pensioners insecurity with a huge question mark over their living standards. The tax guarantee they previously made is gone. They’ve dropped their promise not to raise income tax and National Insurance contributions, raising the spectre of tax rises on lower and middle incomes. Pensioners stand to lose the pension guarantee in the next parliament, the Winter Fuel Allowance is to be means-tested and their social care plans – cap or not – will see those who need care forced to pay for it with their family homes. For public services – slashed back by the Tories – there’s nothing but insecurity in these plans. They’ve failed to match Labour’s commitment on education and there’s no detail other than a vague promise on giving the NHS funding – a promise they made in the past and broken. And following the terrible events in Manchester, Jeremy Corbyn said: “Austerity has to stop at the A&E ward and at the police station door. We cannot be protected and cared for on the cheap.”
Another pledge also unravelled when a senior academic accused the Conservatives of a “sleight of hand” over the justification of its grammar schools policy in its manifesto. Prof Alice Sullivan challenges the party’s statement that selective schools have proportionately more pupils from “ordinary working class families” than non-selective schools. Instead, she said families in the bottom third for income have been excluded from the calculation supporting this data.
May surprised everyone, including her Cabinet colleagues, by cynically calling a snap election after publicly rejecting the idea at least three times. The Tory campaign has been marked by more U-turns, dodgy statistics and self-inflicted wounds – the car-crash social care package which infuriated Middle England, school meals costing that didn’t add up, her mixed messages over Brexit, the catalogue of confusion has been almost daily.
On Brexit alone she has enraged business and the unions and hard-working voters by leaving key questions unanswered: What will happen to farming and will food imports be protected? What will be the cost to the UK economy of migration limits? How will the “soft” border with the Irish Republic work? For many these are key questions, but all we’ve had from No 10 is silence, and May flitting from studio to studio mouthing her “strong and stable” mantra, arguing that she is the only person who can deliver a Brexit deal. Few words, even less action.
Post-Manchester the Tories tried to capitalise on public grief and fears by painting Labour as pro-terrorist, and the Tory opinion poll lead, squeezed to just five per cent, increased marginally. Yet Corbyn’s firm promise to recruit 10,000 more police and 1,000 more intelligence officers would, if delivered, go further in allaying public concerns and combatting extremism than May’s knee-jerk and largely cosmetic exercise in putting troops on the streets. The public’s willingness to accept the Tory line has been stretched to breaking point, not least because of her failures during her Home Office tenure when she axed nearly 20,000 police officer and because of her successor Amber Rudd’s failure to use much-vaunted controls on jihadists.
Win or lose on June 8, Mrs May has shown herself to be a weak and untrustworthy leader who blames others for her own mistake. Behind the Daily Mail headlines and the presidential-style spin painting her as someone who speaks for “mainstream” Britain, north, south, east and west, her policies and performance do reveal herself to be a late-stage Thatcher but without the touchy-feely compassion. Or without her ability to win elections by a landslide.