Theresa May may be forced to end austerity – but don’t hold your breath
History teaches us that the Conservatives are the party of pain and misery.
History teaches us that the Conservatives are the party of pain and misery.
The election results were a surprise to many, including some of those who support Labour. But Corbyn’s real achievement has been that the political landscape has changed forever. It’s a luxuriant and verdant pasture that defies the laws of neoliberal gravity – it’s a new land without the clutter of elite economic enclosures.
Ever since they won a small majority in 2015, the Conservatives have struggled to pass further austerity measures. They were forced to abandon planned cuts to tax credits and disability benefits. Philip Hammond dropped the proposed increase in National Insurance on the self-employed only a week after the Budget.
Now, Theresa May announces to her ministers that austerity is over. Take a moment to let that sink in. Corbyn’s aim when he put himself forward as Labour leader was originally to shift the debate about our economic organisation, and to challenge the neoliberal orthodoxy.
Austerity is an intrinsic feature of neoliberalism, and has been presented as our only choice of economic organisation, since the Thatcher era. Blair’s continuation, albeit a watered down version, tempered with a handful of social protections to spare us from the worst ravages of unbridled capitalism seemed to consolidate an “end of history” consensus that it was the only viable option. Of course it isn’t and never was.
Corbyn has succeeded. The consensus is no more. What an extraordinary achievement. His alternative narrative has demolished the right’s defining ideology and their reductive economic model of enclosure.
Ed Miliband was hated by the Tories, especially because of his manifesto promise of a progressive, tax among other things, and the mainstain media hated him because of his intention to implement the Leveson recommendations. I think we should give him some credit for planting seeds in a ground that wasn’t quite fertile enough back then for the growth of a perenial bipartisan politics to flourish. It has now.
Theresa May is poised to bring to a close seven years of ideologically driven, painful and pointless austerity after Conservative MPs warned that they would refuse to vote for further cuts. Gavin Barwell, her new advisor, explained that a key reason the Conservative party lost the election is because it “struggled” to convince people that their “quality of life” would improve under the Tories, while Jeremy Corbyn “tapped” into their concerns.
However, as we learned, it takes rather more than “convincing” rhetoric and “tapping into concerns”: it requires a genuinely alternative narrative and policies that demonstrate a commitment to the promises made. Corbyn did all of that.
Barwell has told the prime minister: “We are in danger of being deserted by the millions of working people who have deserted Labour because they don’t feel we are on their side.
“They feel they [the Tories] are the party of BHS and not the NHS – by BHS I mean the corporate, awful revolting people like that Phillip Green and the dodgy guy he sold it to.”
The Conservatives have finally realised the inevitable: that their ideologically fueled austerity programme has made them pretty much unelectable by large sections of the population. What they hadn’t expected, though, is that young people would mobilise to participate in democracy and register their disaffection and alienation as a consequence of seven years of Tory-inflicted punishment and loss.
An attempt to re-brand the party because of the election result, however, is unlikely to be successful. The Conservatives have never been particularly accountable and transparent, and the public won’t forget the last 7 years of punitive austerity that the Tories have now revealed to be neither necessary nor “in the public [or economic] interest.” Given that people have died as a consequence of the relentless austerity programme, such political expediency is unlikely to be forgiven.
The Conservative manifesto attack on pensions, the “dementia tax” and proposed winter fuel cuts also demonstrated to everyone that they had no respect for a section of the traditionally more right leaning electorate. If anything should have triggered the recognition that the Conservatives are callous and indifferent to the needs of the electorate, it is their utterly brutal treatment of disabled people for the last few years, leaving many of us suicidal and in utter despair. A moral boundary was crossed with impunity. It was always inevitable that other social groups would be targeted for damaging cuts to their lifeline support sooner or later.
The prime minister spent yesterday apologising to her cabinet and backbenchers, saying that she took full responsibility for losing the party’s Commons majority and running a poor campaign. “I’m the person who got us into this mess and I’m the one who will get us out of it,” she told a meeting of the 1922 Committee last night.
With Parliament being hung, the Conservatives don’t have much of a say, and austerity will all but end because they won’t be able to get further cuts through the legislative process with the ease they experienced previously. The DUP, who the Conservatives will depend on for their majority, have long opposed aggressive spending cuts, despite their controversial roots and extreme social conservatism. Their manifesto called for the abolition of the “bedroom tax” and the maintenance of universal pensioner benefits and the state pension “triple lock”.
Sources have said that Theresa May accepted that the electorate’s tolerance of austerity was “at an end” after Boris Johnson, David Davis and a series of Tory MPs told her that she had “misjudged the public mood.” So it is only the prospect of facing electoral annhilation and “minority related difficulties” that has prompted the U-turn on austerity.
However, I wonder when May will apologise to the public for her party’s last 7 years of painful and pointless ideologically driven austerity programme? Telling her MPs who lost their seats that they “didn’t deserve it” indicates that she still clings to power for the sake of power – authoritarianism – she clearly doesn’t understand democracy and does not respect the needs and wishes of the public.
Voters strongly signaled that they are tired of excruciating budget cuts brought on by seven years of austerity. May has announced to her Ministers that austerity has ended solely because Jeremy Corbyn presented a viable and resonant alternative narrative for voters.
After accusing Labour of “magic money tree” economics, the Tories are now forced to reluctantly divert their own magic money away from the privileged 1%.
The Labour party’s anti-austerity manifesto helped propel Labour to its highest share of the vote since Tony Blair’s landslide victory in 2001.
There has already been some backlash, however. Fraser Nelson was bastard signaling on behalf of the beneficaries of neoliberalism yesterday on radio 4, telling anyone who was listening to his tedious tirade that “we have to balance the books”. He even defended the devastating cuts, controversially claiming that the decision to limit public expenditure has somehow helped the poor.
He’s part of the grotesque pro-neoliberal parade, they are currently out in force, telling us it’s okay that we have such a grossly unequal society, that people can’t meet their basic living needs and that working people need to use foodbanks, because the wealthy want to pay less tax and take more of our public funds to park offshore. Selfservatism at its most ugly.
This privileged establishment mouthpiece thinks it’s acceptable that disabled people die prematurely and without dignity because of cuts to their lifeline support, that young people can’t afford a place of their own, that students have to take out the equivalent of a small mortgage just to study for a degree and extend their almost non-existent opportunities, that elderly people are faced with policies that stop just short of a government recommended euthanasia programme, just so the bleating, hectoring minority of beneficiaries of neoliberalism like him, with ridiculous affected accents and a culture of entitlement, pay less tax.
Nelson won’t like the fact that the run-up to the election also exposed a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to base emotion, particularly in the mainstream media, and has been disconnected from the details of policies on offer.
The Conservatives and the press ran campaigns based on telling people who they should and should not vote for, attempting to stage manage our democracy.
Politics was reduced to fear, smearing, lying and gossip-mongering about individuals. All of the media used the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals were ignored. The media have fueled a post-truth approach to politics, which differs from traditional contesting and falsifying of fact by rendering it of “secondary” importance. The electorate responded, and it’s hard lines for those media hard headlines. Farewell to the authoritarian Tory domination of authoritarian festering fake news.
The targeted dark ads campaign, which reflect a longstanding political misuse of psychology and personal data, were also doomed to fail for the very same reasons. People really don’t like to be told what to think and do, after all.
While post-truth has been described as a contemporary problem, there is a possibility that it has long been a part of political life, but was less notable before the advent of the Internet. Over recent years, we have been propelled into a world in which the state changes historic records daily to fit its propaganda aims of the day. But now, the public are starting to see this, and resist the attempts at micro-management of their perceptions and voting behaviours.
Corbyn has established himself as a plausible, respectable, authentic and decent potential prime minister, despite the press gang telling us we shouldn’t under any circumstances see him that way. In the end, the likes of the Spectator, the Sun and Daily Mail did him a favour in scraping their evidently bottomless barrel of totalising ruthlessness, hatefulness, outrageous accusations, lies, half truths and misquotes. They went too far in telling people who they should vote for. Authoritarianism doesn’t work once people see it for what it is.
The Tories have tripped themselves up and lie winded and chaotically sprawling for all to see. They have lost their step on the road to hard Brexit, and lost their momentum. They won’t be able to implement their manifesto, and will struggle desperately to get any new austerity measures through parliament. Even the DUP won’t support more cuts.
But none of this will undo the damage already done.
There’s a difference between having your hand forced to present an image that is simply more palatable to voters and facing little prospect of pushing controversial policy through the legislative process because of a diminished majority. And actually having a genuine motivation to make changes that genuinely benefit the public.
Historically, the Conservatives have always been inclined towards authoritarianism, with a view that “there’s no gain without pain”. Their gain, our pain, that is…
In contrast to the Conservatives, Labour costed their detailed manifesto meticulously, though it needs a little more work to ensure that the Institute of Fiscal Responsibility (IFS) see it as fully viable. However, the IFS have endorsed it overall, so far.
Barry Gardiner, shadow trade secretary, spelled out a good Labour line for “achieving the benefits” of the single market: putting jobs and the economy first allows Labour to savage every authoritarian Brexit move that makes people poorer.
Quite properly so.
Meanwhile, Labour can now get on with preparing for government.