Thursday 18 May 2017

Theresa May's Blairite Manifesto

Chatting to Alex Nunns on the Twitter earlier, he suggested the Conservative (and Unionist) Manifesto was a Blairite document. And he's entirely right. Not because of the substance of the politics, but because what Theresa May and "her team" are trying to do with it.

Looking at the manifesto, if Labour's was the best manifesto I've seen then, arguably, the Tory document is probably their least worst. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot that is deeply discomfiting here. Yet at the same time it's a patrician (matrician?) work invoking the spirit of manor-house-knows-best Toryism of Harold Macmillan and Enoch Powell. All the one nation lines are in there about tackling insecurity, sorting out mental health, and even a pledge promising to eradicate homelessness by 2027. And no, it doesn't mean dragging them off to the workhouse. There's some interesting wonkish stuff about investment banks, working with 'old' industries, introducing the variously floated 'T'-levels to replace the plethora of vocationally-based qualifications, redistributing government bureaucracies to outside of London (hurrah!) and a few other things. It's all there for the regen geeks.

This togetherness, of repositioning Britain as a giant community in which everyone knows their place and everyone is treated fairly is the running theme of the manifesto. Check this out, for example:
If you are at a state school you are less likely to reach the top professions than if you are educated privately. If you are a white, working-class boy, you are less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university. If you are black, you are treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you are white. If you are born poor, you will die on average nine years earlier than others. If you are a woman, you will earn less than a man. If you suffer from mental health problems, there is not enough help at hand. These are burning injustices that damage the unity of our country, and we will address them. (p.51)
Can you imagine such lines even appearing in the 2015 Tory manifesto? Incredible.

Or not. Theresa May thinks the Tories have the election in the bag. That's why the chapter on Brexit is short on detail but long on optimistic rhetoric. A few trade treaties and technical terms are thrown into the mix to convey the impression the government know what they're doing. Though their persistence with the "no deal is better than a bad deal" idiocy shows they really don't. It's also why costings are entirely absent from the manifesto. Labour always get a hard time about such things. If they so much as want to repaint a school bus up pops talking heads demanding to know where the money's coming from. Not so with the Tories. There might be a day of froth before it subsides. After all, Dave got away with it last time. The size of her predicted victory is why May feels comfortable going out of the way with her bastardised Milibandism. The petit bourgeois-types usually suspicious of big statism have nowhere else to go, and May sniffs a big opportunity to inflict major damage on Labour that could take years to recover from.

And it's also why she may have made a big misstep. As the Tories are in the business of constructing a cult of the personality around a woman completely lacking in personal qualities, the leadership fetish commands an expression of toughness. And here it is:
First, we will align the future basis for means-testing for domiciliary care with that for residential care, so that people are looked after in the place that is best for them. This will mean that the value of the family home will be taken into account along with other assets and income, whether care is provided at home, or in a residential or nursing care home.

Second, to ensure this is fair, we will introduce a single capital floor, set at £100,000, more than four times the current means test threshold. This will ensure that, no matter how large the cost of care turns out to be, people will always retain at least £100,000 of their savings and assets, including value in the family home.

Third, we will extend the current freedom to defer payments for residential
care to those receiving care at home, so no-one will have to sell their home in their lifetime to pay for care. (p.67)
In 2010, David Cameron attacked Gordon Brown's proposals about using a person's estate to posthumously pay for care costs as a "death tax". And here it is, again. Rather than releasing monies to deal with the growing adult social care crisis they are shifting the costs onto individuals and their families. Well, not all. In the name of obligationism, this would not effect the very poorest elderly, but it would hit millions of better off pensioners. Some are bound to pass ownership of their assets to the children in the manner of the rich dodging inheritance taxes to get round it, but most won't. To be sure there's going to be a lot of people in Daily Mail land deeply upset about this.

May thinks she can get away with it because this is the core vote and the Tories reason they have nowhere else to go. Are leave-voting pensioners going to vote for Jeremy Corbyn and his plans to nationalise window cleaning? This is why this manifesto is a Blairite manifesto. With the core vote in the bag, the party is free to reach out well beyond its base to gain the thumping majority May craves. Clobbering pensioners' estates with care costs and rowing back on the triple lock might be enough to persuade younger voters that the Tories aren't just about the oldies and that they're trying to address age-related injustices in social policy.

Here, the Tories may have miscalculated. Looking at the polls, politics appears to have undergone a realignment again with the total collapse of UKIP (remember, we did this). Yet the vote the Tories have drawn in from UKIP is highly volatile, which is why the purples were always a declining force, even when, paradoxically, they were on the rise. That vote, which is mostly old, are going to have to weigh up how much a vote for Theresa May is going to cost their families. It will certainly put some off and, even though a switch to Labour might not be on the cards, them staying at home, or voting for another party threatens the prospects of a Tory landslide. If you're going in for voter suppression, then going after the new supporters you've just won over should do it.

This Blairite manifesto is ultimately another episode in keeping the balance of Britain's class forces tilted toward capital. It's conservatism doing what conservatism does: adapting, shifting, changing, responding to new situations and protecting what's theirs. The adoption of a Blairite approach to politics is from a position of perceived strength, but one that is not as certain as that enjoyed by The Master 20 years ago. It is our job in Labour to seize this and drive home what could be the Tories' most serious mistake.


Blissex said...

«With the core vote in the bag, the party is free to reach out well beyond its base»

What is mandelsonian is indeed giving for granted the base, but she has plenty of goodies for the base too. Still, I think that she is using a slightly different tactic: soliciting the vote of very different constituencies whose "vote moving" issues are non-overlapping: she appeal to tories with a tory approach, and to english nationalists with an english nationalist talk. Most likely for tories who are not english nationalists the tory part of the programme appeals more than the english nationalist one repels; her calculation must be that for english nationalists who are not tories the tory part is a bit harder to digest, so she has put in a thin coating of not quite tory points.

«It's conservatism doing what conservatism does: adapting, shifting, changing, responding to new situations and protecting what's theirs.»

The way I say it is that the right is always to protect incumbency, in property or social position etc., and even radical upheavals are acceptable if they server the purpose so "to change everything so nothing really changes" is part of of their tools. Which makes the "conservative" label slightly misleading.

Boffy said...

I think that May's agenda is more Strasserite than Blair-right. May says there is no such thing as Mayism. Judged by the vacuousness of her pronouncements, and lack of any details or costings in the Tory Manifesto I'd have to agree.

But, we might sum up her current approach as Mayism-Leninism. That is there is a vacuity of ideas, and a willingness to reach for whatever may be popular to win votes from that segment of society, combined with the determination to create a top down, authoritarian regime that will force through whatever it decides in the moment, accepting no criticism or opposition, as they have already done over Brexit etc. Hence the fascistic appeals to "strong and stable leadership", to nationalism etc.

Its called National Bolshevism, as the trend that came out of Strasserism, and was adopted by the Stern Gang in Israel in the 1940's etc. Its current centre is in the Kremlin, and its no wonder that there are ties between Trump, Putin, Erdogan (it was revealed yesterday that Mike Flynn was acting as lobbyist in Washington for Erdogan, who also yesterday was in the WH), Le Pen, Wilders, Farage and May.

May knows that the consequences of Brexit are going to be awful, and that the UK economy is already heading into stagflation. A return to the kind of Blair-right policies of blowing up asset bubbles, increasing private household debt, and printing money are over, as indeed is further attacks on welfare, as Paul Mason said on Newsnight.

That's why May is making it clear that taxes are going up, and when Tories say taxes are likely to go up, it means they will go up a lot. Remember they increased VAT by a third from 15% to 20%. Its why they are even attacking their normal electoral support within the older generation, by attacking pensions, and introducing a death tax for social care - though of course that won't make any difference to the really rich - especially as they will have transferred their estates to their heirs before its used to cover anything.

May knows that they will get nothing from the EU, which is why she will within a few weeks of the election, if they win, announce the talks have broken down, no deal is better than a bad deal, and she will then just pull out of the EU, repealing the 1972 European Communities Act, as her UKIP wing have always argued for.

Things will get very nasty, which is why she is attempting to create a Bonapartist, authoritarian regime in which all criticism and opposition will be squashed, a la Erdogan or Putin.

Dialectician said...

At least May mentions the 'C' word. Blair banned the use of the word 'class'. The Third Way politics adopted by New Labour was a rejection of the class model. Instead, it was centred on a belief, that was dominant at the time, that capitalism had won the ideological war (end of history blah blah) and that politics was no more than a managerial programme to optimise outcomes for all (what works). This was fine for many voters until the crash of financialised capitalism in 2009. Looking at past Labour election victories in the 1960s & 70s, class-based rhetoric worked well. Wilson's speeches were littered with class references. It's odd that the Tories are happy to indulge in the language of class and the Labour Party runs shy.

Anonymous said...

There are two things about May's "death tax" that disturb me slightly.

The first is that the Tories are claiming that 'financial products will be available' to enable the house price funded care wheeze. This means the banks will be drawing them up, and I can't see them doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. The banks will be taking their cut somewhere in the process, and May is keeping completely schtum about how this will work out.

The second is that the entire scheme relies on councils making massive spends on the assumption that house prices will continue to rise. If they stagnate, or if the decades-long house price bubble bursts, councils will find themselves standing with their dicks out in a howling financial wind.

Anonymous said...

It is certainly an error on their part, likely born, as you say, of their confidence of an easy victory. I just hope such errors are enough to help Labour win it.

That said I also fear that our nation's apathy will win this for the Tories. It seems most people I speak to don't like Corbyn and won't vote for him despite not knowing and not being bothered to know what Labour are proposing they will do if they win the election.

I think, as with many things, education will be key. Essentially we need to get as many people as possible reading blogs like this before they go out and vote!

Blissex said...

«the entire scheme relies on councils making massive spends on the assumption that house prices will continue to rise. If they stagnate, or if the decades-long house price bubble bursts,»

Well, look at it from the point of view of May: if that happens the English Nationalist Party, or Conservatives and Unionist Party, as they used to be called, will be thrown out of government, and then sorting out the mess will be someone else's problem. Win-win :-).

Look also at it from our point of view: when (not if...) that happens and the south of England except for central London becomes like Merseyside or Tyneside in the 1980s, we have much bigger problem than council taxes or even old people's care (and I will be one of those old people I guess).

Anonymous said...

The following post appeared in The Guardian's "Comment is Free" entries this evening. I have no idea whether or not it is for real, but it certainly sounds realistic. I am reposting it here without endorsement and will be interested to see what, if anything, others make of it.

“‘People need to read the small print associated with this because its a lot nastier than it looks.

“I work in the City. The insurance industry was approached by the Government several months ago with the aim of creating a new market for a new product.

“This arrangement is a culmination of those discussions. You wont have to sell your house PROVIDED that you purchase an insurance product to cover your social care. The “premiums” would be recovered from the equity after the house has been sold and the Insurance company will have a lien on the house and can force a sale if it wants to. So your offspring cant keep it on the market for long in order to get the best price.

“The real kicker in this is that in order to encourage the industry to market these products the government guaranteed that there would be no cap on the premiums.

“This was in some ways “atonement” for Osborne’s destruction of the highly lucrative annuities market. This means that the premiums could be up to (and including) the entire remaining equity in the property after the government has taken its cut. Companies will be falling over themselves to get their snouts in this trough.

“In short your offspring and relatives could get absolutely nothing from your estate.

“If you buy one of these products you need to read the small print very very carefully indeed because there will be some real dogs on the market.

“I suspect that this is another financial scandal waiting to happen, but by the time it does May will be long gone.'”

Anonymous said...

I wish I could say that this sounds made up but, if anything, is be surprised if it weren't true. Ours seems to be government of money and manipulation, damn the needs of the people.

This sounds like a cynical policy idea, the sort of thing that sounds all too popular these days.