Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Tory Tax Credit Stupidity

It's proven to be the closest shave of Dave's second term and would have thrown the government into chaos had the ayes won it. Tonight's vote in the Commons, brought before the House by Labour, saw the noes (i.e. keep the cuts to working tax credits) win by 317 to 295 - a tiny sliver of a margin. This is despite Tory luminaries like Boris Johnson weighing in against the cuts, and Heidi Allen - new Tory member for South Cambridgeshire - using her maiden speech to strongly intone that "to pull ourselves out of debt, we should not be forcing those working families into it." And yet talk of a Tory rebellion proved to be tough talk, no trousers. To a woman and a man our would-be insurgents lined up behind George Osborne and endorsed the policy they had spent all day attacking. We always knew their workers' party rhetoric was flim-flam, but the Tories are going to have a tougher time selling that now.

While the decision to announce Seumas Milne's appointment as Labour's new head of comms deflects media attention from the government's difficulties, away from Westminsterland the tax credits cut will, is, eroding the support won by the Tories' round of promises and scaremongering back in May. According to Labour's research, the numbers set to lose money and their geographical spread puts some 70-odd Tory seats at risk. 2020 is a long way away, but voters do not forget. Small business people like Michelle Dorrell, whose brief Question Time intervention made a very big political splash, aren't supposed to be punished. There is some question whether she will directly see a cut, but she's well aware that many of her customers will be so affected and that places her livelihood in some jeopardy. Whatever happens, the stress and anxiety Michelle has experienced won't slip her in a hurry.

And this is problematic for the Tories. The Conservative love-in with the Liberal Democrats did many dark things, but they were choosy about their victims. Seizing hold of the neo-Victorian distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor that had been circulating in the press and policy documents for years, Dave and his little yellow friends set about making the poorest pay for the 2008-9 crash. But those poorest were the ones at best unseen, at worst despised. The unemployed, the disabled, the single parents, the long-term sick, people in social housing, people needing council tax support. Osborne anticipated Labour would have problems opposing Tory/LibDem attacks seeing as the party had gone along with scrounger rhetoric at least since His Blairness was at the helm, and that antipathy toward the undeserving poor was, perversely enough, most acute among the "deserving", working poor - the supposed bedrock of Labour's support. To batter the poorest and most vulnerable for electoral gain, it was some of the most disgusting cynicism seen in recent years (though there was a bit more to it as well).

Yet Osborne, the alleged "political genius" responsible for the coalition of voters that gave him and Dave a majority, has now sprung a trap on himself. He's forgotten that while you can get away with grinding the "undeserving" into the dirt with nary a comment, let alone protest; taking on the working poor is another matter. When you go out to work, you do the so-called "right thing", to be penalised for such is just not on. It threatens to blow away those wispy myths sometimes referred to as Tory principles, it cuts at the party's self-help ethos, it stamps on the hand up/not-a-handout approach to social security. Small wonder so many on the right are up in arms. More importantly, it's making Tory voters not necessarily affected queasy. One voted Tory to sort out the fag-smoking pushchair-pushing scummy mummies always down the offie, not one's personal trainer, one's window cleaner, one's hairdresser. Osborne has proven adept in building a coalition alright, a coalition ranging all the way from the Trotskyist far left through the mainstream parties, to hard right ideologues and the ever-opportunistic "libertarians" in UKIP opposed to his policy.

The Tories have a record of being political stupidity, but usually that's a result of their being entirely shortsighted and not thinking through the medium and long-term interests of their own party, and the sections of British business they represent. On this occasion Osborne is set on machine gunning his own foot. That said, there is an element of "necessity" in what the Tories are trying to do. When Dave and co. exclaim the virtues of a low tax, high waged, low welfare economy they mean it: this is their objective, the tiger in their politics tank. In the long-run they think people who get by with the help of tax credits will benefit. Without the state subsidising employers, wage rates would have to adjust properly to their "natural" level, which is way above where they are at present - a point on which most of the left would agree. Hence the comparatively large minimum wage rise, but other indirect subsidies to employers - such as raising income tax thresholds so workers' (low) wages can go a little bit further. Typical of the Tories though, they're handling it in a brutal, stupid way. Yes, some people would suffer in the short-term but we know what's best for them in the long-run is the not-so-subtle message Tory ministers have so far communicated.

That is the background, but also there's Osborne's leadership ambitions. He absolutely has to dig his heels in and tough the policy out. As one half of a duo that think themselves "strong" and capable of taking "difficult" decisions, carrying tax credit cuts through in the teeth of internal, press, Labour, and wider opposition burnishes, in his eyes, his leadership credentials. Silly George, little does he realise that convincing leadership is about winning minds and getting people to follow because they believe, not because you can bulldoze your way through regardless. Still, if he wants to sacrifice the electoral wellbeing of his party on the altar of his career, I'm not about to stop him.

And so the Tories are in a pickle entirely of their own making. Electoral punishment of some sort will be administered, and they've gone toxic to a whole wave of people they need to win over permanently if they want to win again. Yet at no point can Osborne pull out, lest his chances as Dave's successor be torpedoed. Their position is weak, they can be forced to retreat in the face of the chancellor's intransigence, and that is up to whatever pressure we can bring to bear.


Speedy said...

"While the decision to announce Seumas Milne's appointment as Labour's new head of comms..."

For a second I thought this was a Daily Mash-style spoof, so googled just in case.

LOL. Literally beyond parody.

Boffy said...

Its also indicative of something else.

Labour MP's (of all stripes) continually say when interviewed that the result in May was a terrible one for Labour. It most certainly wasn't, as I've analysed previously on my blog.

It was, rather terrible for the Right! The Tory government has a very slender majority of 12, whereas the LIberal-Tory government prior to the election had a secure majority of around 80!

Labour gained as many seats in England and Wales as did the Tories, and increased its share of the vote there, at around twice the rate that the Tories did. It only looks better for the Tories because they devoured the Liberal component of their government. It only looks bad for Labour, because although they gained seats in England and Wales (though not enough), they lost a much larger number to the SNP in Scotland.

The fact is that, as a result of the election the majority for the Right has shrunk from 80 to 12, which requires only a loss of 6 seats for their majority to disappear. Not only did that section of the Right decline, but the Blair-right section of the Right also weakened, and Corbyn's victory is indicative of it.

The SNP's radicalism is fake, but the motivations of all those Scottish voters who were taken in by it, is not.

Labour spokespeople should stop saying the election result was a disaster, and start describing it as what it was, a disaster for conservatism. That is the basis of recognising that those forces can be beaten, more quickly than some would like to suggest.

kailyard rules said...

Heidi Allen voted yes. Another Janus Tory.

kailyard rules said...

Then Heidi voted no. Which Heidi was it?

BCFG said...

speedy - you are beyond parody.

The right winger who isn't a right winger, the anti war pro war marcher, the I hate the middle class but love the middle class....

Before Corbyn can fight the Tories he needs to take care of his own vermin first. they won't all do a Warner.

Milne is a wonderful appointment incidentally.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton said...


Speedy said...

I should appoint you my PR manager BCFG! If only life were as simple as you appear to think it is, then... well, we will have a JC government in four years time, or 10, if the ideological cleansing takes a while, or maybe 15... 20... come the Revolution.