Sunday 22 May 2022

Flogging the Hobby Horses

The Tory press have imbibed the results of the Australian election and it's sitting heavy in their stomachs. In the land down under, where Labor glows and Liberals chunder, observant Tories can hear the thunder ... of political pain ahead. Looking at the coverage following the Coalition's surprise heavy defeat, the headlines are all about how the Liberals are "in turmoil" and were in disarray even before polls opened. Adding to the pain, Scott Morrison's heir apparent, the (former) Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was among the Liberal cull. The leadership is now very likely to fall to right wing Defence Secretary Peter Dutton.

Drawing its conclusions from these shores, the Sunday Telegraph editorial frets that a similar reckoning is due. It notes how the Australian versions of the blue and red walls crumbled as a progressive coalition smashed the Liberals in their heartland seats. The Telegraph implies environmentalism and the cost of living crisis did for Morrison's crew, but happily the advice the paper proffers is similar to those hoping Dutton's going to save the liberals: double down on the conservatism. It argues Boris Johnson is busily alienating the coalition of voters that put them into power. This is worth quoting at length:
The Tories have made a stab at challenging the woke advance in the culture wars, but why are our institutions still dominated by the Left? Why is the civil service seeking to erase women? They have failed to deregulate the economy after Brexit, are doing too little to tackle crime, have nothing to say about market-led economic growth and have yet to do anything meaningful to raise post-Covid standards in education. What seem to officials like bright ideas – actually foolish and outdated – are leapt on without philosophical foundation or consideration of the consequences, economic or political. There is a sensible way to address climate change through technology, but instead people are told they must fly less or Low Traffic Neighbourhoods are imposed in suburbs. The cost of government failure is passed on to the voters, and done so with an air of Puritan smugness.
Taking in the round recent Tory vandalism, like privatising Channel Four, the disgraceful Rwandan transportation scheme, taking the butcher's knife to the civil service, and today's floater: banning strike action by transport and teaching unions, you'd have thought the Telegraph would be satisfied. The Tories themselves, which have undoubtedly focus grouped their rancid offerings, think this would go down well with their base - both old and new. But as argued here to the point of writing a bloody book about it, the Tories have misrecognised the reasons why enough voters made the switch in 2019. Just because Brexit as an idea is riddled with reactionary touch points and authoritarianism, it didn't mean everyone who voted for it was. But, as poll after poll shows, the primary reason Johnson peeled away hundreds of thousands of Labour voters in 2019 is because of his pledge to honour their referendum vote. This, however, was coded as a culture war issue in the Tory imaginary, and so the assumption is more war on woke stuff will keep these new supporters onside. The Telegraph thinks nothing less than a full on purge of anyone with a left or liberal opinion from state institutions will shore up those creaking red and blue walls.

What the Tories have forgot is you can't eat anti-woke polemic. Thatcher won enough popular consent for her programme brcause the deal was sweetened with right to buy, cheap mortgages and credit, tax cuts, and share issues from privatising the utilities. Even during the Coalition years, the Tories seasoned their battery of attacks with the pension triple lock and more tax cuts. What are Johnson's Tories offering apart from a feeble council tax rebate, a compulsory loan, and a smack in the mouth? The result of this strategy is becoming painfully clear. They might be looking okayish in the polls, but then again the Coalition beat Labor in popular vote terms. No, what this month's local elections demonstrated was how the Tory vote retreated in the areas won in 2019, and their brutal evisceration in allegedly safe areas at the hands of the Liberal Democrats and the Greens. And given turnout was dominated by older people and the retired, the demographics the Tories do disproportionately well in, this is very bad news indeed.

Inevitably, the question is whether the Tories can turn it around. Looking at their present tactics and the advice of its press allies, Johnson has decided cobbling back together the coalition that won it for him last time might do the trick, while hoping this would be enough without having to win over new voters. It's possible on an outside chance, but the likelihood diminishes the more the Tories indulge their hobby horses and the less time they spend on addressing the catastrophic cost of living crisis. The worse is gets, the more shrill and desperate Tory rhetoric will become.


David Lindsay said...

To impose a "minimum staffing requirement" during a strike would in fact be to ban strike action itself. Don't tell me it's Brexit. No one fought harder for that than the RMT and ASLEF, and their reasons were those of the Red Wall voters that swung the referendum for Leave. The EU never prevented any previous attack on workers' rights, and would not have prevented this one.

At a push, Labour might vote against this. But it would certainly not give any commitment to repeal it. Labour never gives any commitment to repeal any of the bad things that this Government does, and it rarely even bothers to vote against them. So don't vote Labour. Make alternative arrangements. I am not politically homeless. I am going to be voting for myself again. How about you?

Jim Denham said...

"The EU never prevented any previous attack on workers' rights, and would not have prevented this one": nonsense: in its inadequate way, the EU was a considerable restriction upon Tory plans to undermine workers' rights and actually caused the expansion of rights in the UK, especially in the fields of maternity rights, TUPE-transfer rights, working time and anti-discrimination legislation. It is blind anti-EU mythology amongst "Lexiteers" that denies this. The EU wouldn't prevent this latest Tory attack if we were still members, but it would make it more difficult, given that EU membership requires members to recognise basic union rights. The Brexiteers on the Tory far right make no secret of their hopes that Brexit will enable further attacks on workers' rights: only foolish Lexiteers can't see this.

Blissex said...

«the more the Tories indulge their hobby horses»

Those are just distractions, in the silly Westminster bubble pantomime about "woke" and "beer at work meetings".

«and the less time they spend on addressing the catastrophic cost of living crisis»

With their current coalition the Conservatives have an 80 seat majority, what happens to those voted for other parties in 2019 does not worry them at all.

As to their voters, whose interests Starmer and Davey are also so keen to represent, those are enthusiastic about how much faster than inflation their fortunes are rising:

Nationwide’s latest HPI has found that the annual house price growth increased to 14.3 percent in March, from 12.6 percent in February.

The BoE has dared to rise interest rates to as high as 1%, while inflation runs (officially...) at 9%, gifting a massive yearly discount on the cost of their mortgage or remortgage to property owners. Rejoice! Rejoice!

Anonymous said...

"Labour’s new deal for working people would transform their lives, tackling the gig economy, repealing the anti-trade union law and banning zero-hours contracts. "


Would welcome Phil's take on how much credibility this has. As far as I'm aware Ann Black is a pretty credible NEC member (and reporter of NEC activities)