Truss lines up Austerity 2.0

The utter shambles of this Truss-led government has clearly indicated that they intend to renege on a promise made by the previous Chancellor Rishi Sunak, to uplift social security benefits in line with inflation. They may well now claim it is due to the ‘difficult choices’ they have to make as a result of the turmoil in the financial markets, which they will blame on the Ukraine war, or Starmer or cheese, but of course in reality it is a disaster entirely of their own making. However, these cuts to benefits were already indicated on the day of the budget in Kwasi Kwarteng’s answer to Labour MP Stephen Timm’s question.

When Lizz Truss was questioned by Laura Kuenssburg about rumoured cuts to public spending and social security benefits, there was no denial, just a parrot-fashion repetition of the need to grow the economy and ‘value for the taxpayer’.

The grim irony of the Tories in 2008 accusing the Labour government of economic incompetence, when the reality was a global crash originating from deregulated financial markets in the US, and the Tories in 2022 blaming the current instability in the UK financial markets on a global problem, when the reality is that it was their incompetence and lack of transparency that created it.

Following the market crash of 2008, a Tory government aided by a supportive right-wing media (remember all those daytime TV programmes about benefit cheats etc.) successfully set out a narrative of lazy scroungers sponging off the state, which resulted in widespread public support for the cuts to benefits for the most vulnerable in our society.

I believe the Tories will be assuming they can push this line again and receive the same public support aided by their ‘non-dom’ friends in the press. I think they are mistaken. Their scrapping of the cap on bankers’ bonuses and cut to the top rate of tax* has revealed their true colours – a government of the rich for the rich, who give claps for carers and cash to hedge fund managers.

*Since this was written the cut to the 45p rate has been reversed. The Tories claim this u-turn was due to the distraction of this policy created by the media, rather than the scores or Tory MPs who realised it was a certain seat loser. However, the intended direction of travel has been revealed.

Millions of people will struggle this winter, with energy prices double that of last winter alongside rising rents and food prices. Add to this the ticking time bomb of homeowners coming to the end of fixed rate mortgage deals and facing huge increases in their mortgage payments – a scenario which resulted from the Chancellor’s desperate drive to give handouts to the rich, while at the same time avoiding independent scrutiny of his actions.

Many people are likely to face financial stress for the first time, with those already in financial hardship facing dreadful choices about how to prioritise their household budgets and support their families. Labour has rightly talked about being on the side of ordinary working people as opposed to bankers and millionaires. However, they must also be seen to champion rather than stigmatise the least well-off in our society.

I believe we should judge our society on how we look after the most vulnerable within it. The pandemic showed how communities can pull together for the benefit of everyone.

So, this time when the Tories, aided by the media, push their ‘shirkers not workers’ narrative we now know the truth. The current government do not have the mandate to govern the country. We have financial decisions being made that impact us all that have not even been discussed by the cabinet, never mind voted on by the public. It is time for a General Election to get them out of power. Labour will be buoyed by the startling poll leads they currently have. However, this is not the time to be passive. Labour should set out a bold alternative for a fairer more equal society, that presses for workers’ rights alongside an adequate safety net for the vulnerable. An alternative which promotes empathy and compassion for all, rather than the narrow self-interest of a Tory government that lobbies for the benefit of a privileged few. That will be a country of which we can rightly be proud. That is true patriotism.

Julian Vaughan

2nd October 2022

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