How the Tories Fucked the Country
And what to do about it.
Theresa May inspects some flesh (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire/PA Images)
This election cycle has been full of Tory deception and distraction. For instance, after seven years of a Conservative government pursuing an economic strategy described as "repeatedly hitting yourself in the face", any alternatives offered up to soaring inequality and collapsing living standards have been ridiculed as relying on a "magic money tree", when it fact costs have been plainly laid out for the electorate to see.
So actually, Theresa May's insistence that "this is the most important election in a generation" is a rare moment of honesty. For the first time in decades, there is an opportunity to break with an anti-social past going nowhere, in favour of a shared hope of a better future.
At a recent leadership debate, Amber Rudd called for the Conservatives to be "judged on our record" – triggering howls of laughter from the audience. Understandable, when you consider the record of the Conservative Party in government includes: the trebling of tuition fees to £9,000 a year; the scrapping of EMA and Legal Aid; the closure of hundreds of libraries, youth centres and women refuges; savage cuts to schools, arts, mental health, social care and local authority budgets; humiliation of the disabled; victimisation of the unemployed; the bedroom tax; the illegal deportation of 50,000 people; racial profiling of school students; spiralling violence in prisons; the worst housing crisis in decades; and higher taxes for low earners.
Impressively, all this has been achieved before the Conservatives even reach the halfway point on the austerity measures they plan on continuing until 2025.
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The Conservative Party claims to be the party of economic competence, in much the same way that thousands of takeaways call themselves "Best Kebab". Regardless of the greasy sound bites, their approach has catastrophically failed on its own terms. We were told cutting public services was necessary to reduce the national debt. While austerity policies have devastated communities across the country, the national debt has doubled – from £849 billion in 2010 to £1,722 Billion in April of 2017. The UK is now the worst performing advanced economy in the world, with only Greece suffering bigger falls in real wages, leaving all of us earning less money, and with fewer job prospects and a worse quality of life. The Conservatives' answer? More austerity. Not everyone is complaining: in March of 2017, Chancellor Phillip Hammond made further cuts to corporation tax, giving big business another £18 billion of our money.
In reality, austerity was never about reducing the national debt, but permanently shrinking the state to fund tax-cuts for the wealthiest. As inequality climbs to the highest levels on record, the consequences for working people have been dire. A third of British people and 75 percent of single parents now live in poverty. That's an increase of 5 million people since the Conservatives took office who struggle to afford adequate housing, food or clothing. Despite Theresa May's talk of helping the "just about managing", the Institute for Fiscal Studies has consistently warned that Conservative policies are hitting the poorest hardest, forecasting a 15 percent drop in income by 2020. The Trussel Trust food bank network handed out 1.2 million three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis last year, while rising malnutrition led to thousands being treated in hospital and several hundred fatalities. With many of these cases a direct result of government cut-backs, it's sadly no exaggeration to say Conservatives policies are starving the poorest in our society to death. Their answer? More austerity, including a pledge to scrap universal free school meals.
When the Conservatives' economic policy is injustice and the social policy misery, presumably their healthcare policy also has little to do with healing the sick. Following seven years of funding cuts, the number of NHS trusts in financial difficulty has increased from 5 percent in 2010 to 66 percent in 2016, leading doctors to frantically assert the service is at "breaking point". Yet far from being accidental, the funding crisis is a deliberate emergency designed to accelerate NHS privatisation, forcing hospitals to compete against low-cost private companies to provide services. Since the Conservatives took power, the percentage of the NHS budget going to private healthcare providers has doubled – £1.5 billion of which went to companies with direct financial links to Tory MPs.
Despite Theresa May's claim of an extra £10 billion for the NHS, government ministers have quietly admitted there will be steep funding cuts after the election. NHS directors have been told to "think the unthinkable" when it comes to making cuts, according to the Health Service Journal; the closure of facilities, reductions in staffing and withdrawal of treatments. Analysis of the plans by the BBC found two-thirds of NHS services were set to be scaled back and up to 28 hospitals face closure, escalating a situation so severe the Red Cross declared it a humanitarian crisis. The Conservatives' answer? More privatisation: The Director of NHS England – a former private healthcare executive appointed by the Tories – plans to use the forthcoming £22 billion NHS cuts to introduce "accountable care". An American-style system centred on health insurance, associated with companies such as Kaiser Permanente. US corporation Kaiser got a lot of bad press in the States after they were made to pay a fine for dumping a homeless patient on Skid Row, Los Angeles. Kaiser is seen by many Conservatives as exemplary of how the NHS ought to work.
If the Conservatives' domestic policies have been an unmitigated disaster, compared to Theresa May's catastrophic handling of Brexit they risk appearing as a shining beacon of success. Born out of Old-Etonian rivalries and sepia images of Britain's imperial past, the referendum was called on the expectation it would be lost, finally settling internal scores within the Conservative Party. Following a campaign resting on little more than myth-making and illusory promises, May and Hammond are now driving us towards a "hard Brexit" – or, as it's more commonly known, a car crash. Many people voted to leave, but whether they were signing up to such an extreme severance from our most significant allies is dubious. Held hostage by the Daily Mail and the hard-right of her party, May's negotiating position is led only by idiots, blind fury and Boris Johnson.
May's continued sabre rattling – from threatening EU citizens with deportation to accusing the EU of interfering in the election – has successfully alienated every European state before talks have even begun. With less than two years to negotiate complex trade treaties, May's insistence that "no deal is better than a bad deal" is simply delusional. Trains cannot run without railways, and high-volume international trade cannot occur without a framework in which to operate. Fifty-three percent of our imports and 44 percent of our exports are with Europe. Everything from British ports to nuclear plants could be forced to close.
Already Brexit is impacting those who can least afford it, as the falling pound increases food prices and basic goods, fuelling the "unprecedented" collapse in living standards. But it's May's talk of turning the UK into a tax haven which reveals the likely trajectory under the Conservatives. Tax havens don't like dissent. Will democracy be rolled back to maintain London's financial districts? With Scotland edging towards independence, we wont be left with a Post-Brexit Britain, but Poundland.
The Conservatives are everything and nothing: the "workers' party" destroying wages and worker protections; a "centre-ground" with the most right-wing cabinet in decades; a "strong and stable leadership" which, following the collapse of the previous leadership, has performed nine major policy U-turns in under a year.
While Theresa May's patronising refusal to debate the opposition smacks of an arrogance, it's the total control of media events which betrays the true nature of the Conservative campaign. Staged with party activists in empty factories and remote forests, journalists have been locked in vacant rooms for fear they might ask unapproved questions. Uncontrolled, open engagement – a foundation of democracy – is being shunned for a "dark election" of choreographed press stunts and personalised messaging delivered privately to your social media accounts.
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This shifting of the debate from the light of public scrutiny into the murky darkness of the internet has deeply worrying implications for the democratic process. As millions of pounds pour into online campaigns, techniques for psychologically targeting individual voters are becoming increasingly advanced. Based on military technologies, companies such as Cambridge Analytica use machine learning to develop sophisticated profiles on voters, claiming to have played a pivotal role in the Brexit referendum. Speaking to the Guardian, one professor familiar with the technology stated that, "With this a computer can actually do psychology, it can predict and potentially control human behaviour […] It's how you brainwash someone. It's incredibly dangerous."
Despite having less than 150,000 members, wealthy donors have left the Conservatives poised to spend £19 million – more than double Labour's budget – on campaigning, with much of this spent online. This dislocation of the democratic process is inherently undemocratic, but sits comfortably with the increasingly authoritarian approach of the Conservatives, who aren't really fighting an election campaign, but a class war.
The Conservatives are born-to-rule. Unconcerned by any principle except the maintenance of power, the Conservatives will U-turn on positions, betray promises and – as the leadership "contest" showed – sacrifice their own to ensure their continued control. The interests they serve are not yours or mine, but those of the bankers, financiers, fossil fuel magnates and landlords – who in just six days of this election campaign donated £3.7 million to ensure their backs are scratched.
Why would they care about the hardship inflicted on the vulnerable when austerity has been so successful in transferring wealth upwards to the rich? When even the Prime Minister's husband is a director of a multi-trillion dollar firm, why would they stop? Why would they take action on tax havens when the Conservative campaign is run by Lynton Crosby – a man who has benefitted from tax havens? Still they have the nerve to attack Labour spending plans, saying there is no "magic money tree". The Conservatives know exactly where the money is – they've got it all, yet still want to take more from you.
By 2015 the coalition government had fucked the young. By now, it's apparent that the Conservatives have fucked the country, presiding over economic incompetence and unrelenting social catastrophe, leading Britain to international isolation and the United Kingdom itself to breaking apart. They simply do not care about the country's direction or the plight of its people, only with staying in charge.
We all deserve better. Whatever you think of Jeremy Corbyn, for the first time in 40 years a real alternative has shattered the glass ceiling of Thatcherism and an austerity programme that stamps our faces into the ground. If every young voter showed up tomorrow, Labour would be in government. But regardless of what happens on the 8th of June, we cannot afford to quietly return to our homes and be apathetic any longer.