It’s always wise to keep an eye on what the Conservatives are doing; as a result, I watched much of the Conservative Party Conference last week, writes cllr Shaz Nawaz, Peterborough Labour group leader.
I nearly choked on my coffee when Theresa May insisted that austerity is over; this is certainly not the view we have in local government. Philip Hammond has made it clear that more cuts are on the way, and we are going to have to be creative in how we sustain our public services, and provide more social housing.
These cuts come after eight years of sustained austerity; we’ve seen a consequent rise in homelessness, the use of food banks (including by working people), and inadequate funding for the NHS. On the other hand, the government apparently has plenty of money to spend on tax cuts for large corporations, grants to the Democratic Unionist Party, and even £120 million for a so-called “Festival of Brexit”.
Lest we forget, we are the sixth richest nation in the world. We have resources that many nations would envy; the only way that we can afford expenditure on extravagantly dubious projects and yet not have sufficient resources to help hard working families is due to chronic mismanagement both on a national and local level.
This ineptitude is only matched by heartlessness: open a newspaper and it’s easy to find stories about Windrush migrants who have been brutally deported despite having contributed to British society all their lives. I recall the case of a decorated former RAF squadron leader living in Peterborough who was initially told he wasn’t a British citizen and whose wife and son were deported. Fortunately, this case was so egregious that it was favourably resolved. Other stories, like those who were assessed as being “fit for work” despite suffering from debilitating or even terminal illness, are rife.
Given this, I was also floored by the Prime Minister’s call for a politics that unites us. She is clearly appealing to an instinct for consensus that her own party does not share. One need only look at the rapturous reception that Boris Johnson received at his fringe meeting to see this; one need only watch our council meetings via Facebook to get another helping. The wider country is just as divided: there’s tension between rich and poor, young and old, north and south, Remain and Leave. This does not appear to be getting any better.
On reflection, the conference confirmed for me that it is time for change; much of what was said in the Conservative Conference could easily have been said in 2016 and 2017. There was no change; rather, the policies and personalities were set in aspic. Meanwhile, the country is moving on, its needs remain unaddressed. The sands of the hourglass have run out; it’s time for responsive politics, not the politics of bluster and nostalgia. It’s time to do the hard work of direct engagement with our problems, not outsourcing them. It’s past time for change.