This past Sunday, I tuned into the debate between the contenders for the leadership of the Conservative Party. For those who didn’t watch it, I must say it was a somewhat surreal experience, writes leader of the Labour group on Peterborough City Council Cllr Shaz Nawaz.
The leading candidate, Boris Johnson, didn’t show up. An empty podium was there in his place. The statements were bizarre: many of them put forward the idea that the withdrawal agreement could be renegotiated although Brussels has stated there is neither the time nor the inclination to do so. Honesty about this fact was in short supply.
Beyond Brexit, we heard about a litany of woes that afflict our country: Jeremy Hunt pointed out deficiencies in social care. Illiteracy was highlighted. Michael Gove used the word “love” several times in his efforts to indicate a caring agenda. There was an admission that cuts had gone too far: it wasn’t an apology, as such, for those who had been affected by them.
Furthermore, this acknowledgement did not encompass the reductions that local government has faced. Still, I wondered where all of these people have been since 2010. They were conveniently forgetting that they have been in power for the past nine years; these were nine years in which these problems had apparently gotten worse, rather than better. There was an unspoken expectation that we would all somehow blame Theresa May and David Cameron, and conveniently forget their role in this too.
When the Conservatives took office in 2010, with the aid of the Liberal Democrats, they stated we were living beyond our means and cuts were necessary to balance the books. The cuts came thick and fast: we have seen reductions in vital services like policing. We were told this was necessary: however, like with policing, sometimes you can be penny wise and pound foolish. Which is better for the economy, for example, that a burglary is prevented, or the costs of a burglary are loaded up onto a besieged business owner and an insurance company?
Sure Start was also cut, even though the Institute of Fiscal Studies found that (as reported by the Parliamentary Review) “one Sure Start centre per 1,000 children resulted in 5,000 fewer hospital visits among 11-year-olds”. This is of net benefit to the health service.
Nevertheless, the cuts have continued. Boris Johnson wants even more tax cuts, a blatant example of fiscal irresponsibility in straitened times; since 2010, our national debt has skyrocketed. We are supposed to just let this case study of irresponsible management go, sink it down the memory hole, and embrace whomever the membership of the Conservative Party selects.
Any Labour politician has to face into certain myths: one is that the party is supposedly bad with money. The Conservatives drape themselves in the thin veneer of fiscal responsibility: but that’s all it is, a veneer. They may want us to conveniently forget, but the Labour Group and I will remind them: there is a better way, a more sensible way, a more responsible way.