Thursday, May 07, 2015

Bob's election priorities no.1: Tories out!

So, we've reached the predictable if rather late in the day culmination of my pre-election series...

For a lot of the time, in this blog I have focused on faultlines between Islamism and secularism or between internationalism and isolationism. I've spent a lot of time criticising the left for its evacuation of working class communities, for its capitulation to postmodern moral relativism and so on - because it is on those issues which I've felt I have something to say. Because of my position on those things, I often find myself in agreement with people on the centre-right. However, those are not the issues which really fundamentally matter to me and my family in our day to day lives, or which I vote on in elections. In this post, I want to focus on the issues which really do matter in a much more concrete way. 

The last five years of Conservative-led Coalition government have, I believe, been disastrous for the country, in many ways.

Instead of evidence-based policy on topics such as migration or education, we have had ideological follies and back-of-a-fag-packet gimmicks. David Cameron's contempt for Scotland looks likely to contribute to the break-up of the United Kingdom, despite the fact that a clear majority of the Scottish people voted against independence. A half-baked philosophy of "Big Society" has done nothing to empower citizens. A faux-libertarian rejection of the nanny state and red tape has masked a series of authoritarian laws which put schools and local authorities under tighter than ever central government control. Inequality between ethnic groups has grown, while the government has pandered to "faith communities". A promise of a new greener Conservatism has failed to materialise as its becomes ever clearer that Cameron thinks of environmental protection as "green crap". Public assets such as the Royal Mail have been sold off at a huge loss, benefiting big business while delivering worse value for money for consumers. Our housing situation is in absolute crisis, with growing numbers in abject shelter poverty and an unsustainable property bubble locking even middle income people out of home ownership.

But there are three areas where there has been particularly brutal damage, and where another term of Conservative rule promises the threat of even worse, irrevocable damage. (Note, most of the links below are to charts evidencing the claims I am making.)

THE ECONOMY
David Cameron was talking last night about "the 2008 Labour recession", an idea that seems to have become almost common sense for the mainstream media, even to the point that Labour barely challenges it. The fact is, of course, as any Greek could tell you, the 2008 recession was global, with lots of complex causes (many to do do with the finance industry and the property bubble), Gordon Brown's spending not being one of them.

Similarly, Cameron claims that the Conservatives have steered us out of recession through prudence. In fact, the recovery has been global too (in fact, growth began again in the last three quarters of Brown's government and retreated for the first two years of Cameron's). And while it is true that that the UK's recovery in terms of growth and jobs has been more impressive than many other countries (but not the US), it is telling to look at who has benefited from that growth and what sort of jobs they've been.

While there's been growth, productivity has declined. Growth has been driven by the housing market (benefiting existing home-owners, hurting renters and those who want to buy but can't; in London an average house price is nine times an average salary) and above all by the service sector, the only sector back to its pre-crisis state. The benefits, therefore, have been to home owners (especially in London), the finance sector, and the rich. Manufacturing and production have shrunk.

This means that the types of jobs created have been low-paid service jobs. The rise in zero hours contracts (from 50,000 in 2005 to 200,000 in 2013 to 700,000 now) has been the great scandal of the Coalition period. We've had a growing number of self-employed people, but a huge leap (from 20% to 35%) in the number of self-employed people with very low incomes (below £10,000). Because we now have such a low-wage service economy and a not particularly progressive taxation system, government tax receipts have not kept up with growth, so the public sector debt and deficit (which we've had since Thatcher) has grown not shrunk in the Cameron age of austerity.

Combined with "reforms" to welfare which have mainly hit working people (most welfare recipients are in work not out of work), working poverty has risen, and a cost of living crisis has affected everyone from the very poor to the squeezed middle. Food banks is the other great scandal of this government, with well over a million using the Trussell Trust food banks alone.

Zero hours contracts is one dimension of precarity that makes people insecure; the axing of public services, which has thrown many public sector workers into unemployment as well as destroyed the safety nets the poor rely on, has been another. Those facing benefits sanctions are probably among the most harshly affected.

It is no wonder then, especially as mental health services are cut back, that suicide has risen sharply under the Tories. Their economic policies are literally killing us.

HEALTH
The NHS, created by a Labour government after World War II, is one of the great achievements of which Britain should be proud. From 1979-1997, the NHS experienced systematic disinvestment until it reached close to breaking point. Anyone who spent time in the Third World standard London hospitals of the John Major years and then in the Gordon Brown years will know that massive investment in the NHS by New Labour made a real, palpable difference to the quality of care. Disinvestment impacts quicker than investment, and the period since 2010, as demand for healthcare grows due to our ageing demography, has seen another palpable decline.

But probably more damaging is the attempts this government has made to close hospitals and wards (including wards at my local hospital in Lewisham, where one of my kids was born). These closures have been hard fought by local communities, and the government has changed the law to make it easier to do so under their next term in office.

More serious still is the Conservative strategy to privatise and dismantle the NHS as we know it. Although they are not upfront about this, is it clear from what they have done already. The 2012 Health and Social Care Act removed the responsibility of the Secretary of State to secure comprehensive and universal healthcare provision; it requires contracting out of services to private companies; and it removes accountability in the NHS. £7 billion of new NHS contracts have been given to private companies - many tax avoiders and/or cronies of Conservative MPs.

By lifting the cap on private patient income from Foundation Trusts, the Act allows hospitals to prioritise profit-making activities at the expense of universal patient care. And, in Clinical Commissioning Groups, it has created an incredibly expensive and less accountable new bureaucracy, diverting funds from patient care.

More and more NHS care is being redefined as "non-core" and therefore potentially chargeable; the cumbersome bureaucracy created to charge migrants for their health care creates the machinery for that. Vote out the Tories to save the NHS.

EDUCATION
My son applied to secondary school this year, and was offered a place in his fifth choice school, so this section is pretty personal to me. British state schools have been victims of damaging purely ideological reforms by both Conservative and Labour governments since 1979; the dramatic difference between the Labour years and the Tory years is that the former saw massive investment in school budgets while the latter has seen systematic disinvestment.

Investment in teachers, in teacher training, in existing and new school infrastructure have all collapsed under the Coalition government. Instead, money has been squandered on Free Schools, the gimmicky pet project of Michael Gove, whose only qualification for being education minister was that he once played a vicar in a comedy farce about a British private school. Free Schools have cost us an enormous amount, and there has been no evidence whatsoever of their success. Crucially, because they have been located wherever their sponsors want them to be located, they have completely failed to meet the demand for school places. Free Schools have therefore hindered a strategic response to the school place shortage crisis that this government should have seen coming. Vote out the Tories to save our schools.



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