Boris Johnson steals Labor’s clothes? He will also sell you a bridge | Aditya chakrabortty
Naughty Boris! You know the line and its intonation. Here is the Prime Minister, ripping through the principles of Toryism with the same puppy ferocity his friends in Bullingdon used to attack restaurant windows. Tearing his party’s rules apart to keep taxes low and the state small. Inject billions into health and social care, and risk a mutiny by MPs who owe them their seats in parliament.
Boris Johnson: The Tory who steals clothes, shoots foxes and parks tanks who can outperform Labor, oust loyal allies from his cabinet and realign British politics.
Since last week, since its tax and spending announcement, the party’s big donors have complained that this is not the government they paid for. “Boris will win every election, but it won’t be a Tory party he will lead by the end,” sniffs fund manager Crispin Odey, who has not only funded a Brexit campaign but also made bets of several million pounds against the post-Brexit economy and thus secured its place in the public imagination as a huge Janus. Meanwhile, right-wing newspapers rant about the “death knell for conservatism.”
It all makes for a great story. It also looks as much like the real thing as a Filet-O-Fish at a bar, being fat irregularly in history, politics, and politics. The storytellers of this story claim Johnson “leans left on the economy and on the right on cultureAs if the policy of the left consisted only in plundering the treasury, rather than sharing power and reducing inequalities. As if spanking money while disparaging migrants was a multitasking feat never before attempted in Westminster. As if Margaret Thatcher hadn’t raised the general level of taxes herself during her 11 years in power, the Iron Lady still being far less Thatcherite than her fanboys.
But the biggest problem of all is that this portrayal of the Prime Minister as the “non-conservative conservative” ignores how far right he really is when choosing who to tax, as well as how to spend his money. As the electorate is about to see.
The main reason Johnson shelled out so much can easily be summed up: Covid, where he had little choice and a lot of company. The UK is a very wealthy country and in the face of a deadly pandemic it has spent as it is. According to the IMF analysis, the UK’s fiscal response was in line with that of Canada and Japan, while falling far behind the socialist vanguards of Australia under Scott Morrison and the United States under Donald Trump.
The huge surprise is that Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are tightening their belts long before the disease’s final act – a move that is both economically thoughtless and electorally stupid, but one that is thrown at voters with barely a relaxation. This will have a far greater impact on the fortunes of this government than what happens to non-branded people like Gavin Williamson and Robert Jenrick. This can indeed prove the great unforced error of the whole parliament.
If backbench and newspaper conservatives are meowing now, wait until next spring – when the national insurance hike comes on top of rising corporate tax rates and freezing tax thresholds on the income to make a possible combined tax hike of £ 37 billion. Add to that next month’s spending review, which is likely to make further cuts to local government and prisons, and you have two major contractionary forces acting on the economy.
It will look like most conservative things: austerity. It will also be a gift for Keir Starmer. From next April, the Labor leader will be able to start each interview by pointing out that Johnson has imposed the biggest tax bill (as a percentage of national income) on the public in 70 years – while giving him fewer teachers, more stripped libraries and longer waits for the hip. substitutes.
These tax increases carry the same characteristics of dangerous rush and traditional Conservative targeting. When Gordon Brown was preparing to raise taxes for the NHS in 2001, he appointed ex-NatWest boss Derek Wanless to lead a review that lasted more than a year. It was only then that he increased national insurance by one percentage point. Twenty years later, Sunak has raised his taxes, his only real preparation being to brief a few journalists. Sooner or later, such uncontrollable budget announcements will have their own electoral consequences. Yet by choosing national insurance, the Tory Chancellor is carrying on Thatcher’s tradition of imposing levies on your payslip or purchases, while allowing you to hoard for less.
“It is a tax system that afflicts the working class,” says Alex de Ruyter of the University of Birmingham. A labor market economist for 25 years, he notes that while more and more wealth is held by fewer and fewer people, British politicians have done little to make things fairer. Indeed, over the past 10 years, Conservative-led governments have set out to make the tax and benefit system more unequal. Withdrawing £ 20 from universal credit payments next month isn’t a cruel and unusual punishment by an otherwise redistributive prime minister – it’s classic conservative political economy.
Whatever No. 10 claims, not a single penny of that money is spent on the front line of welfare. It’s not just because most of it goes to the NHS: it’s because all that’s left will be used to help a small number of households pay less for their health care bills. The plan Johnson adopted is essentially the one presented to David Cameron by economist Andrew Dilnot. At the time, officials carried out an impact assessment of the policy. I haven’t seen it mentioned once in the past few days, but the report is a telling read. This shows that most of the billions spent on the plan would go to testing families for eligibility and other bureaucracies. The number of people who would benefit was “nearly 100,000 individuals”. In other words, most of the £ 5.4bn pledged for social care in this package will go on paperwork and 100,000 homeowners.
This plan will do nothing against these 15-minute visits made by caregivers on a zero-hour contract. He will not put a penny more in the pockets of caregivers. It won’t change the way the industry has been stifled by multinational private equity consortia. This is not expected: it is a very expensive insurance policy for a small number of people.
Last summer, as the British gathered on their doorsteps to cheer on caregivers, I spent time talking to caregivers about the nature of their work. Most had been deprived of personal protective equipment; some had been harassed by managers when they brought up the subject. And if they did get sick, none could get more than the statutory minimum sickness benefit of £ 96 per week. As one caregiver, Grace, told me, it forced her to make a choice: either get sick and go into debt, or continue to work while she is sick and infect, if not kill, her own patients. Despite several months of protests, this government refused to fix this rotten system.
I caught up with Grace again this week. She quit the care job, as part of an exodus from an industry that has seen caregivers signing up with Amazon as warehouse preparers for more money. Grace is now a nursing assistant in a hospital, performing tasks she did as a home help and working similar hours – but for a 50% pay rise and with readily available materials. What did she think of the new tax on care? “They are asking people like me, people who work every hour for almost minimum wage, and who will never be able to buy our own homes, to pay more to keep wealthy families in their homes,” she said. declared. “This government is treating us. “
Sometimes all political fantasies about a gifted politician’s shapeshifting powers are worthless against a working woman who watches her own payslip.