Government on borrowed time


Boris Johnson and his government are on borrowed time. The litany of failures and lies grows by the week. While Partygate is investigated by a disgraced Metropolitan Police and Sue Gray’s report remains largely redacted, the court of the UK public has rejected a ‘one law for the people and another for Tory leaders’.

Worse still than the lies of the PM is the fraud perpetrated against taxpayers, as uncovered by the government’s own minister and reported by Lord Prem Sikka. Up to an eye-watering £52 billion could have been corruptly obtained, all before the dodgy Covid contracts to Tory mates and the £37bn squandered on ineffective Test and Trace. That’s more than enough to cover the costs of £20m cut to Universal Credit and the impending rise in National Insurance. It dwarfs the paltry £5 billion earmarked largely for the NHS and the much smaller amount for social care. As Dr John Puntis reports, the Government are pushing ahead with privatisation plans in the face of 100,000 shortage of staff and with the UK having one of the highest rates of Covid deaths – at 180,000 – in the western world.

Similarly, as North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll and Paul Salveson write, the misnamed ‘levelling up’ plan unveiled by Michael Gove is full of mission promises but no new money. After almost 12 years of austerity cuts, which have seen a reduction of around 40% in local authority budgets, how are local councils supposed to implement house building and development schemes with inadequate government funds? Camilla Wheen also highlights the problems of local planning in the context of greening and protecting the planet. The same could be said of cuts to the scheduled northern links in the foolhardy plans for HS2 rail.

It’s the cost of living crisis that threatens the livelihoods of millions of working people that now emerges as the biggest indictment of this right-wing government’s failures. Dave Toke explains that the huge energy price rises could all be avoided if we had a national gas supplier serving the UK population (instead of seeking to maximise profits overseas) and sustained investment in renewable cheaper and cleaner energy – in accord with COP26 goals.

Further, inflation is likely to be over seven per cent by April, and much higher for basic items in poorer working class food baskets. Rent and mortgage costs will also rise for millions. Brexit undone lies behind much of this surge in costs, and is why, in desperation, Johnson has moved hedge fund millionaire Jacob Rees Mogg to a new post of Brexit Opportunities Minister to search for the unicorns.

Meanwhile, public sector pay is pegged at below 3%, with all workers facing massive income reductions. Behind this attack on living standards and increasing social inequality flashes the huge profits of multi-billion corporations like BP and Shell (£40bn profit) and Amazon, the latter two avoiding billions of tax to the Exchequer.

Aware that protests will mount from trade unionists and green activists like Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain, the Government is pushing draconian legislation in the form of the Police Bill to massively curb the basic freedom to protest. As Peter Hain reports, the Lords may have removed some of the most repressive clauses – the envy of authoritarian states worldwide – but home secretary Priti Patel will doubtless seek to reimpose most through the Commons.

Alongside these curbs comes the sustained use of anti-migrant scapegoating policies expanded in the proposed Nationalities and Borders Bill. Don Flynn reports on ten years of the Tory ‘hostile environment’ policy that has brought misery to thousands of the Windrush generation living and working in the UK for 50 years, as well as causing desolation for many more seeking safety or a better life, with tighter border controls, deportations and checks. Andy Gregg highlights the Tories’ racist colours in their quest to criminalise the movement against memorials to slavers and imperialists and reduce the independence of the judicial system.

Labour’s front bench have echoed the media exposure of Partygate but have been less fulsome on the cost of living crisis. A windfall tax on the profiteering energy companies needs to be voiced alongside calls for social ownership of energy – a Starmer pledge. Peter Rowlands continues our ‘Pledgewatch’ series with a critical look at the lack of calls for peace and disarmament. Instead, Starmer extols the virtues of NATO and militarism – a far cry from the legacy of peace-building and anti-nuclear campaigning of Desmond Tutu, highlighted by Fabian Hamilton and Roger Symon. Pledges on wealth and power redistribution also seem to have become invisible.

Jenny Clegg analyses Labour’s recent China report and urges an approach that promotes dialogue over denunciation. Sacha Ismail highlights the difficulties while China continues to suppress dissent and ban trades unions and independent media in Hong Kong and mainland China.

With Labour now showing a steady lead over the Tories in opinion polls, to reach a 125-seat target in a general election, much more is needed than relying on Tory own goals. The Tory party is playing the long game, seeking to ride out the current storms. To win, Labour needs to go on the offensive. This must involve fulsome support for electoral reform and proportional representation, and strong campaigning with trade unions for pay rises at least linked to inflation, benefit protections and a £15 minimum wage. Wider still, Starmer needs to urgently set out a new vision of Britain that is greener and more equal, where social justice is the norm, not the exception, and that includes ending exclusions and restoring democratic norms to Labour Party operations.

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