Yves here. Despite pundits originally anticipating that the Tories were set to deliver Labour a crushing, perhaps even party-destroying defeat in the June 8 election, aided and abetted by press and Blairite demonization of Jeremy Corbyn, the tide has turned. Labour’s release of a program backing big increases in social spending appears to mean at a bare minimum that Labour is far from dead. Voters were given a clear alternative to tired old Tory austerity policies and a meaningful number say they will vote for direct plans to deliver more support to citizens, as opposed to “Brexit will make things better” hopium.
While May still has a comfortable lead, the change in handicapping has her snap election looking less clever than it did when she called it. She will still contend that it gives her a mandate for Brexit, but a less than thumping victory will mean she may not have improved her position much. And she will have diverted time and energy from preparing for Brexit negotiations. Given how her Downing Street dinner with Jean-Claude Juncker and other members of the EU team revealed how poorly briefed she was, this is a not-inconsequential cost.
Labour have continued to cut the Tories’ lead in the polls after the publication of the party manifestos, as party leader Jeremy Corbyn claimed his message was “getting through” to voters.
Survation research gave Theresa May’s party a lead of nine percentage points with the Conservatives dropping 5 per cent to 43 per cent in a week while Labour enjoyed a 5 per cent boost to 34 per cent.
There was a similar story in four new polls published in the Sunday papers, which put Labour between 35 per cent and 33 per cent, up from the 26 points the party was showing at the start of the campaign.
The YouGov poll for The Sunday Times put Labour on 35 per cent, with the Conservatives nine points ahead on 44 per cent…
It appears Theresa May’s policies on social care and pensions have damaged her party’s approval rating among older voters.
A separate Survation survey, conducted entirely after Thursday’s Tory manifesto launch, found 28 per cent of voters said they were less likely to vote Conservative because of the social care package, branded a “dementia tax” by opponents.
Note that this is the highest Labour has scored since the Brexit vote. Oops.
And the reality is that the decline in the standard of living in the UK outside London is due in large measure to Thatcherite policies. Indeed, membership in the EU if anything ameliorated the impact. And before you finger EU immigration, the UK has more non-EU immigrants. Given that the NHS and no doubt other employers have now come to depend on immigrants (10% of NHS doctors are EU immigrants), it’s not clear how the UK will wean itself of immigrants, even assuming that was a real goal. Do not forget that one of the big reasons for Tory and UKIP support of Brexit was to escape EU labor rules.
By Dr Victoria Cooper, a lecturer in Social Policy and Criminology at the Open University and David Whyte is Professor of Socio-legal Studies at the University of Liverpool. His most recent books are The Violence of Austerity (edited with Vickie Cooper Pluto, 2017). Originally published at Open Democracy
As we move towards the general election, we are paralyzed by what is probably the biggest single issue affecting ordinary people in the country: austerity. We are unable to fully understand both the economic madness of austerity and the true scale of the human cost and death toll that ‘fiscal discipline’ has unleashed.
Since coming into power as Prime Minister, Theresa May has made a strategic decision not to use the word ‘austerity’. Instead she has adopted a more palatable language in a vain attempt to distance herself from the Cameron governments before her: “you call it austerity; I call it living within our means.”
The experience of countless thousands of people is precisely the opposite: people are actively prevented from living within their means and are cut off from their most basic entitlement to: housing, food, health care, social care and general protection from hardship. And people are dying as a result of these austerity effects. In February, Jeremy Corbyn made precisely this point when he observed the conclusions of one report that 30,000 people were dying unnecessarily every year because of the cuts to NHS and to local authority social care budgets.
But this is really only the tip of the iceberg. The scale of disruption felt by people at the sharp end of these benefit reforms is enormous. Countless thousands of others have died prematurely following work capability assessments: approximately 10,000 according the government’s own figures. People are dying as a result of benefit sanction which has fatal impacts on existing health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease.
Austerity is about dismantling social protection. The crisis we face in social care is precipitated by cuts to local authority funding. In the first 5 years of austerity, local authority budgets were cut by 40%, amounting to an estimated £18bn in care provision.
A decade of cuts, when added up, also means that some key agencies that protect us, such as the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency will have been decimated by up to 60% of funding cuts. Scaling back on an already paltry funding in these critical areas of regulation will lead to a rise in pollution related illness and disease and will fail to ensure people are safe at work.
The economic folly is that austerity will cost society more in the long term. Local authorities are, for example, housing people in very expensive temporary accommodation because the government has disinvested in social housing. The crisis in homelessness has paradoxically led to a £400 million rise in benefit payments. The future costs of disinvesting in young people will be seismic.
Ending austerity would mean restoring our system of social protection and restoring the spending power of local authorities. It would mean, as all the political parties except the Conservatives recognise, taxing the rich, not punishing the poor in order to pay for a problem that has its roots in a global financial system that enriched the elite. It would also mean recognizing that the best way to prevent the worsening violence of austerity and to rebuild the economy is to re-invest in public sector jobs.
In our book published this week, we bring together 31 leading authors to challenge this violent agenda. The book provides a comprehensive guide to the social violence that has been unleashed by austerity and shows, unequivocally, that austerity is not about ‘living within our means’ like some kind of fantasy household budget in Hampstead. Austerity is designed to punish already disenfranchised populations, in targeted and violent ways.
Both the economic madness and the vicious cruelty of austerity have been almost written out of this election. Come June, the next elected government has to produce a viable alternative strategy to austerity if it wants to reduce the death toll and properly protect its people. No matter how the politics of Brexit or the politics of devolution and independence play out in the future, austerity is the key political issues that will shape the lives and deaths of the British people.
The Violence of Austerity, edited by Vickie Cooper and David Whyte, is published by Pluto Press.