Tuesday 2 November 2021

Tory Triple Lock Tribulations

After a very long day at work, what warms the cockles of your wretched heart? For me, it's easy. The prospect of Tory pain. In the Lords this evening, peers rejected the government's plan to suspend the state pension Triple Lock and send it back to the Commons for another try. This isn't exactly what the Tories could be doing with right now.

Brought in by Dave to (ostensibly) shield pensioners from bearing the direct costs of his ruinous cuts programme, it guarantees a rise on the state pension by 2.5%, the rate of inflation, or average earnings - whichever is highest. Back in September alongside the rise in National Insurance contributions, the Tories announced they were scrapping the average wages component for this year to prevent the pension rising by eight per cent. As readers know, increasing aggregate pay rates are largely a consequence of low paid jobs bearing the brunt of the Covid depression. It's not, as Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak like to boast, thanks to bumper pay packets. Nevertheless, it's a headache for the government. It works out at just over £11 extra/week per pensioner for those retired before 2016 and £14/week for those after. Hardly princely sums, but one the the BBC reckons will weigh in at £3bn/year. And even then it would still leave UK pensions lagging behind comparator countries.

This represents a big headache for the Tories. Their success is premised on a voter coalition that has home-owning pensioners at their core. They disproportionately vote Conservative because Tories promise them a certain kind of security and stability. They use nationality, scapegoats, law and order, and other discursive tricks and media campaigns to shore up their imagined community where people know their place and feels secure in a fundamentally insecure world. But none of this would work if it wasn't fed by the stability of the pension guarantee. The difficulty the Tories now face is having to argue in public that, to use DWP minister Therese Coffey's words, an eight per cent rise on a measly payment "isn't fair". Saying pensioners don't deserve more money is not a good look, especially with prices inflating and energy bills heading upward.

In this hour of difficulty, is there anyone who can help cushion the impact of their doings and save the Tory coalition from cracking? Why yes, ever-reliable Labour. Originally the party was set to abstain on the vote, and then changed its mind. Jonathan Reynolds heralded the government's defeat before adding "An 8% rise as a result of a statistical quirk would not be fair." Because nothing says 'effective opposition' more than agreeing with the Tories that their objection to raising pensions is basically correct. Sadly, it's consistent with current party positioning. When the matter was before the Commons in September, Labour sat on its hands and abstained. Because passing up golden opportunity after golden opportunity to inflict damage on the Tories will win Keir Starmer plaudits and votes for taking the high road.

It's no secret that Sunak has wanted to ditch the triple lock since he became chancellor, while other Tories are alive to its political importance for their coalition. The scene is set for a considerable loss of Tory face and an opportunity to finally push a wedge between the government and its most loyal support. But it requires Labour to make a song and dance and push its own critique and alternative, and at this moment in time it looks like opposition is just too much trouble.

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Shai Masot said...

Labour to abstain on the Tory plans to drop the Triple Lock, eh?

I just wish I understood radical social democracy from a Marxist perspective. Perhaps Paul Mason will enlighten us all with his next dribbling New Statesman piece?

JN said...

Starmer has already served his fundamental purpose: 1) Get elected as leader, 2) Change the rules for leadership elections. Now the only question is whether he'll resign before Labour loses the next general election or afterwards. When he does, I suspect it won't be long before he's elevated from "Sir" to "Lord".